CINCINNATI (AP) -Another ugly loss has the last-place Cincinnati Bengals thinking maybe they're just not that good.
At 3-7, reality is setting in.
They can't win games with their high-tech passing game. They can't stop anybody on defense, not even a 36-year-old quarterback throwing with his other arm. They can't win a game when they get two long touchdown passes and return a blocked punt for a score.
They're starting to wonder whether their self-image is a tad inflated.
Even receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who has regularly insisted the Bengals are better than the teams that beat them, is taking a step back and wondering if he needs to change his perspective.
``Talent doesn't win games, obviously,'' Houshmandzadeh said, referring to a 35-27 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. ``You can look at us and see why. We're a good example of that. Talent doesn't win games. Or, maybe we don't have as much talent as we think we do.''
Precisely.
There's some talent - a Pro Bowl MVP quarterback, a topflight receiving corps - but every team has some talent. It's what teams do with it that matters. And the Bengals are realizing they're doing much less with more talent than some.
``Guys have been built up to think they were up to this level of player,'' coach Marvin Lewis said Monday, referring to their high expectations. ``Well, they're finding out that maybe you're not. Maybe you need to get back to work and figure out a way to get it done, and rely on the rest of the football team to help you.''
Lewis insisted the Bengals have as much talent as the teams they're losing to every week.
``We're not overmatched, that's all I'm saying,'' Lewis said.
That's debatable. But there is no doubt this collection of talent doesn't add up.
When Lewis arrived in Cincinnati for the 2003 season and turned the lowly Bengals into an average team, his motto was to act like a worker totally focused on digging a hole. Don't look up, don't slack off. Keep digging.
Right tackle Willie Anderson got a shovel from the grounds crew at Paul Brown Stadium and gave it to Lewis, who held it up in the locker room following a breakthrough victory over Kansas City that season.
On Monday, Anderson said the Bengals have lost that hardworking attitude.
``The talent's still here,'' Anderson said. ``I just think we're a little too Hollywood right now. Somebody may hate me saying that word ...
``We've got to get back to that '03 mind-set where we'd bring our shovel in here. I think we've gotten away from digging ditches.''
Instead, they're in one. And it's too late to climb out.
Lewis said no major lineup changes are in store. Those will come in the offseason, when the Bengals most likely will make yet another attempt to overhaul the defense that has dragged them down during Lewis' five-year run.
They've also got issues with their running game, though the head coach is in denial about them. The Bengals got 72 yards on 20 carries against the Cardinals, extending their trend. They've run for 100 yards in only two of their 10 games.
``We actually ran the ball pretty well yesterday,'' Lewis said.
It's not like the old days, and that's one of the biggest differences in this season. The Bengals won the AFC North in 2003 - their only playoff appearance since 1990 - with an offense that was able to run over teams.
This season, they've relied much more heavily on the passing game, and it's been a losing proposition. They've gotten away from overpowering teams with the running game.
``I don't know that we have gotten out of it, but I think sometimes when you have so much to work with you want to use it,'' Anderson said. ``That's how I put it. When you have so much to work with, you want to try to use everything you've got. Sometimes that's not a bad idea, but ...''
Anderson, who has missed most of the last six games with a knee injury, said he might be able to play Sunday against Tennessee.
Lewis doesn't plan to contact the league about left guard Andrew Whitworth's exchange with an official during the game. Whitworth thought the official made lousy calls when he twice called him for holding. During their exchange, Whitworth said the official responded by ``calling me lousy.''

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