At 1-3, Bengals in the basement, looking like their old bungling selves Print
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Tuesday, 02 October 2007 10:23
NFL Headline News

 CINCINNATI (AP) -Sure looked like the old Bungles, didn't they?
Couldn't get the right number of players on the field. Couldn't keep from sniping on the sidelines. Couldn't keep themselves from falling into last place all by their lonesome.
At 1-3, the Cincinnati Bengals are having one of those throwback seasons, the kind they thought they'd relegated to history when Marvin Lewis took over as head coach five years ago.
Instead, it's all coming back with a sickening familiarity.
Lewis screamed at his players, calling them selfish and told them to just shut up and play following a 34-13 loss to New England that was vintage Bungles. He also took away their day off, ordering them to report for a clear-the-air team meeting on Tuesday - or else.
``I've been hearing the same stuff for 12 years now,'' Pro Bowl offensive tackle Willie Anderson said.
With this franchise, the same stuff keeps happening.
A 1-3 start isn't anything new for the Bengals, who have a history of either starting with a thud or ending with one, but this one is especially telling. The players knew this was a definitive season for Lewis, whose teams finished 8-8 in three of his four seasons.
Quarterback Carson Palmer was fully recovered from his knee injury, the defense underwent another offseason overhaul, and everyone was talking about contending for the AFC North title.
In one month, it has unraveled.
Cincinnati is last in the division heading into its bye week. The loss to New England underscored the Bengals are still too immature to win week after week, let alone season after season.
``This is about as embarrassing as it gets,'' Anderson said. ``Those guys (New England) are a bunch of grown men. They are a mature football team, and we have to figure out how to get to that level. We are constantly trying to figure out how to play like that.''
A loss to New England isn't a reason for shame. The unbeaten Patriots have been the league's best team so far. It's how they lost that got their coach raging.
With a chance to cut the lead to three points with a touchdown right before halftime, Palmer and Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson had a miscommunication on a route. Palmer thought he would cut in front of defensive back Asante Samuel near the goal line. Johnson kept going, making for an easy interception that was the game's turning point.
A frustrated Palmer immediately walked toward Johnson and had words. The verbose receiver didn't back down, continuing their animated discussion on the bench. Johnson kept at it while the two of them walked to the locker room for halftime.
In the second half, receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh got into an animated exchange with Lewis on the sideline after a third-down pass to a tight end fell incomplete.
``I'm an emotional player,'' Houshmandzadeh said. ``I'm going to voice my opinion. That's what I do. In my opinion, it's not a bad thing. It's not disrespectful.''
In Lewis' opinion, it's an unnecessary distraction. His players sat in their lockers with heads down after the game, listening to his latest harangue about how the coaches call the plays and the players run them.
``Selfishness,'' Lewis said, summing up his theme to the team. ``It's a game of greed, but you have to play it in the scope of the game. We've got guys that want to win, but we've got to channel it in the right direction.''
There were on-field follies as well. The Bengals stopped one of New England's third-down runs, only to get flagged for having 12 men on the field. Given the reprieve, the Patriots drove to a field goal that made it 27-10 early in the fourth quarter.
The Bengals had eight penalties in the second half, preventing them from doing anything noteworthy.
Injuries were a factor. The Bengals were down to one linebacker on some plays, and their beat-up offensive line had trouble protecting Palmer. But it sure doesn't help when a team's marquee players are sniping in front of everyone else.
They've got one chance to get it right.
Coming out of their bye, the Bengals will play at 2-2 Kansas City and home against the 1-3 Jets. If they win those two, they'll be back to .500 heading into a home game against division-leading Pittsburgh.
They have to change a lot, and fast, or it will really start to feel like the old days.
``We're not that good right now,'' Houshmandzadeh said. ``We've got to get it fixed or it will be a long season.''

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