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 CINCINNATI (AP) -The kickoff meanders out of bounds. The defense gives up another touchdown. The game is sealed by a fumbled kick return.
Sounds like the old Bungles, doesn't it?
During a loss in Seattle last Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals (1-2) tripped all over themselves while letting another one get away in the closing minutes. Now, they need a big upset to avoid falling into a familiar predicament.
If they don't beat the New England Patriots (3-0), it could be curtains already.
``We have put ourselves in a hole we need to dig out of badly,'' said receiver Chad Johnson, whose lack of frivolity during the week underscored his team's dire situation. ``It's a good thing it's early. It's time to go on a roll and put things back together.
``We've got to get our swagger back. I'm looking to put up 45 points Monday night, regardless of whether we're playing the No. 1 defense or the No. 32 defense.''
Uh, Chad? That would be the No. 1 defense coming to town. And the No. 1 offense, too. And some of the NFL's best special teams.
The Patriots have been so dominant during their best start since 2004 - when they won their third Super Bowl in four years - that they've had to nitpick to find areas to improve.
``You don't want to kick a lot of field goals, and that is something we haven't been doing very well,'' said Tom Brady, who has thrown a league-leading 10 touchdown passes. ``Getting the ball inside the 5-yard line three times and kicking three field goals, once not scoring. And a few other times inside the 10 and not scoring.''
Oh, please!
The Patriots can ditch all the we're-not-that-good bluster. They're the league's best team by far so far, scoring 38 points in each of their first three games while giving up only 35 overall.
And Brady has been the best of this impressive bunch.
The two-time Super Bowl MVP has put together three opening games that make other quarterbacks marvel. He has completed a stunning 79.5 percent of his passes - 70-of-88 for 887 yards - and thrown 10 touchdown passes in a three-game span for the first time in his career.
The 30-year-old Brady has often been great in a game, but he's never been this good over three.
``It's amazing,'' said Carson Palmer, who has thrown for nine touchdowns and completed 64 percent of his passes. ``The first game he was almost 80 percent or whatever it was, and it's like, 'That's great, but let's see him do that a couple of weeks in a row.' And now it has been three.
``He has a chance to keep it rolling with the playmakers they have, with the defense playing the way they are. He's a good enough player to keep his percentage that high all year long. There aren't many guys that are. If there's anybody capable of doing it, it's Brady.''
Are the Bengals capable of being the first time to stop him? Tough chance.
Cincinnati had the league's worst pass defense last season and gave up 51 points in a loss to Cleveland two weeks ago, a sign things haven't changed much. Even if the Bengals can somehow contain Brady and a receiving corps featuring newcomer Randy Moss, there's no guarantee the Patriots won't put up 38 points again.
That's what happened last season, when the Patriots visited on the same day of the year and won 38-13. New England ran for 236 yards, led by Laurence Maroney's 125 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bengals stayed with them until late in the third quarter, then collapsed.
``Basically, we just broke down,'' safety Madieu Williams said. ``We lost our focus toward the end of the third quarter and consequently lost the game.''
Collapses have become the norm for the Bengals lately. They missed out on the playoffs last season because they lost their last two games - on a botched extra point that would have tied a game in Denver, and on a missed field goal that set up an overtime loss to Pittsburgh.
So far, they've botched two more this season. Palmer's interception in the final minute sealed a 51-45 loss to Cleveland, one that can be blamed more on the defense, and the trio of last-minute mistakes in Seattle led to a 24-21 loss. That left them two games behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North.
Although it's early, they can't afford another bungle.
``It's not really about New England on Monday night,'' Johnson said. ``It's about us.''

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