CINCINNATI -- Marvin Lewis and Carson Palmer made good first impressions on a cynical city.
Palmer opened the second half with two impressive touchdown drives Saturday night, completing all seven of his throws, as the Cincinnati Bengals pulled away to a 23-10 exhibition victory over the Detroit Lions in front of a small crowd.
The Bengals (1-1) wanted to look good in their first home game under Lewis, a first-year coach who is trying to convince fans that better times are ahead for the NFL's worst team.
"It wasn't perfect, but we did what we said we wanted, which was to improve from last week," Lewis said. "We're getting better."
The Bengals sold only 39,956 tickets - the fewest for any preseason game since Paul Brown Stadium opened in 2000, and a measure of how much Lewis and Palmer will have to do to win over the fans.
"Actually, that was the first time I've ever been out on the field," Palmer said. "It's a gorgeous stadium and I'm going to enjoy playing there. I can't wait for that place to get packed."
After a first half that produced few big plays and only four field goals, Palmer took over and brought the crowd to its feet by completing all seven of his passes against Lions backups in the third quarter.
His 2-yard toss to fourth-round pick Jeremi Johnson on 4th-and-goal put the Bengals up 16-3 and showed that their quarterback of the future is getting closer each time out.
He's close enough that Lewis might consider promoting him to the No. 2 job behind Jon Kitna for the season opener.
"We'll wait until Sept. 7 to see who's the best option in that order following Jon," Lewis said. "There's no question that Jon's the No. 1 quarterback."
Palmer lofted a 30-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh on his second drive, leaving him 7-for-7 for 97 yards - impressive statistics for a rookie limited to one practice last week because of a strained tendon in his right foot.
The Lions (1-1) had few good moments in a matchup of the NFL's two worst teams from last season. The first-team offense couldn't move the ball consistently, and receiver Charles Rogers - taken second overall in the draft, right behind Palmer - dropped the first ball thrown his way.
"I'm still getting used to this," said Rogers, who caught two passes on comeback patterns for 18 yards. "I got my feet wet. Overall, it was good. I wish the results were better."
Joey Harrington was hoping to get into a rhythm after his lackluster passing performance against Pittsburgh, but struggled even worse against a revamped Cincinnati defense that has held its own in the preseason.
Harrington played four series and led the Lions to only two first downs. He was 5-of-11 for 27 yards, with most of his completions coming on short throws under pressure.
"We messed up a lot of little details," Harrington said. "That's the thing that got us. We'd have one play that killed a drive, but some of their blitzes caught us off-guard early."
His best pass was dropped by Rogers, who missed the preseason opener because of a finger injury. Rogers got open between defenders on a long third-down pass, but the ball slipped through his arms.
"I feel real comfortable with him," Harrington said. "I like when he's out there running routes."
Lewis had planned to let Palmer play with the first-team offense in the first half, but changed his mind and left in Kitna after he struggled through the first quarter.
Kitna finally got his touch, completing seven consecutive throws at one point, but produced only three field goals by Neil Rackers. Kitna, who will start the season at quarterback, was 10-of-15 for 90 yards.
The Lions had to scramble their travel plans after Thursday's blackout. Instead of flying, they chartered eight buses for the five-hour trip, and one of them broke down along the way. They were flying back to Detroit after the game. ... DE Cory Redding, the Lions' third-round draft pick, sprained a knee. ... Bengals WR Peter Warrick was excused to attend a relative's funeral. ... Fans were handed a printed "special message" from Lewis as they entered the stadium, asking them to cheer loud. "You can be our '12th man' and give up a great home-field advantage," Lewis message said. "I have seen great crowds help win Super Bowls. Let's make it happen in Cincinnati!"
The Associated Press News Service
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