CINCINNATI (AP) -The last time the Rams came to town, a title was at stake.
No, not that kind of title.
The Rams and Bengals were winding up lost decades when they played at old Cinergy Field on Oct. 3, 1999. They had 99 losses apiece in the '90s, and the loser of that one would get the title of NFL's most forlorn franchise.
Cincinnati got the distinction. Then, the two teams went their ways.
Rising star Kurt Warner threw three touchdown passes to Az-Zahir Hakim in the Rams' 38-10 victory that became a springboard. St. Louis went on to win the Super Bowl that season under coach Dick Vermeil.
That wasn't all. The Rams made it back to the Super Bowl two seasons later, losing to New England. They made the playoffs five times in a six-year span, leaving those depressing '90s memories far behind.
The Bengals? They're stuck in a time warp.
They've had only one winning season since they overtook St. Louis as the league's most miserable team, going 55-82 since that bad day at Cinergy Field.
``It's ancient history,'' Bengals offensive tackle Willie Anderson said.
Maybe. But it feels a little like old times as the teams reunite.
The Rams (3-9) and the Bengals (4-8) are once again mirror images in misery, trying to salvage a few wins at the end of a lost season - something they did a lot during the nasty '90s.
``People expect you to be a good team for whatever reason, and we're not right now and they're not,'' Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. ``So it should be a good game because we'll be out there trying to win, both of us.''
Of the two, the Rams have been a little better lately.
An offense that was expected to be one of the league's best was crippled by the loss of three linemen to season-ending injuries. Quarterback Marc Bulger missed time because of broken ribs, a sprained thumb and a concussion. Running back Steven Jackson has been limited by groin and back injuries.
Even with their formidable receiving tandem of Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, the Rams have scored fewer than 20 points in eight games. The only thing the injured players could do was watch, wince and wait to get better.
``Very difficult,'' said Jackson, who missed four games and much of another during the Rams' 0-8 start. ``We all have different reasons in this locker room why it's so disappointing. But I was unable to play for four or five games there in the middle of the stretch, and I had to watch my team suffer. I couldn't go out there and help and at least put them in a position to win.''
They've won three of their last four, an indication things have finally calmed down.
``They started off slow like we did,'' Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said. ``They have rattled off a couple of wins here, almost four in a row with kind of a nail-biter recently. They've gotten hot. It's a team that has strung together some of their best games of the year.''
The Bengals have yet to string anything together. They have yet to win back-to-back games, and with one more loss would be headed for their worst finish since 2002, the season before Marvin Lewis took over as head coach.
Injuries also have been a problem for the Bengals, leaving their offensive line in flux and decimating their group of linebackers. Running back Rudi Johnson is still returning to form from a hamstring injury.
With the Bengals, it goes much deeper, of course. Some of the built-in limitations from the '90s are still in place. There is no general manager. The Bengals have moved into a new stadium, but still lack a covered practice facility, forcing them to work out in the snow and bitter cold last week.
Lewis has come under fire for how things soured since the Bengals made the playoffs in 2005. They've lost 16 of their last 25 games despite a roster featuring Pro Bowl players on offense and top draft picks on defense.
Palmer leads one of the league's best passing games. A touchdown pass on Sunday would give him 100 in 58 career games. Only Dan Marino, Warner, Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning have reached it in fewer.
Houshmandzadeh leads the league with 88 catches and Chad Johnson is fourth with 77.
Somehow, all those gaudy numbers add up to only four wins. And the players putting them up are starting to wonder if the Bengals will ever emerge from their long-standing rut, the one the Rams escaped the last time they came to down.
``If everybody stays here and we get our guys back and we can avoid injury, everybody here has a lot of years left in them,'' Houshmandzadeh said. ``Years go by and you keep saying, 'Next year,' but at some point next year has to be now.''

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