BENGALS GAMEDAY: Photos, analysis, video highlights, stats, quotes* * *
Posted: 4:15 a.m.
KANSAS CITY - It is now a matter of confidence.
Or lack of it.
The Bengals came out Sunday with all the body language of a challenger instead of a contender.
And after a very mediocre Kansas City team wrapped them around their finger early at Arrowhead Stadium and cruised to a 27-20 victory for Cincinnati's fourth straight loss, fifth straight on the road and seventh in the last eight games, the Bengals officially fell from contender to challenger.
"When you get down, confidence is a big thing," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who still swaggered to another big 145-yard day. "Teams that are winning, when they get down, they're thinking, 'We'll come back and win.' Is everybody on the team like that? I don't know. Whenever we've gotten down, we've lost. Maybe doubt starts to creep in. Who knows? We've got (11) games left. We have to suck it up, man up, and just play."
There were supposed to be no more moral victories. But in the first four-game losing streak in the Marvin Lewis era and as the only team in the AFC North without three victories, it's all they've got.
"Although we didn't win the game today, I thought we made progress and showed some signs of a football team, not a bunch of individual guys," Lewis said after an uninspired first half put his team in a 20-7 hole. "What I told our football team in there just now was that I thought for the first time this football team played like a football team that second half of the game."
During his first season in 2003, his players and the fans bought it when the Bengals rallied to 8-8 and had a shot at the playoffs on the final day. The fans, no doubt, are cold to it now. He'll find out about his players next Sunday against a 1-5 Jets team that has had all the same struggles the Bengals were supposed to be beyond when they clinched the North on Dec. 18, 2005.
They are 9-15 since.
It's not an easy sell anywhere.
Lewis' captains, quarterback Carson Palmer and defensive tackle John Thornton passed the message.
"At this point, we've got to build on something," said Thornton, whose undermanned unit kept the Bengals in the game but couldn't overcome the first-half mistakes. "There are no moral victories in this game, but we have to start somewhere. We started playing better in the second half. They just didn't sit on the ball. They tried to pass it and run it and do what they were doing in the first half. We got sacks and tackles for loss. That's how we have to play defensively. Can't give up big plays. That's what Coach was talking about. ... If we play like that next week, we'll win."
Palmer admits he's not playing well and he points to the atrocious drought on third down that reached 18 straight over two games. It wasn't until 3:30 left in the game that the Bengals converted a third down, their first one in October and first since 3:22 left in the Seattle game back on Sept. 23.
"I don't know what our fans want to hear," said Palmer when told they won't want to hear they're improving. "I feel bad for our fans. They didn't expect us to be 1-4. They shouldn't be happy. We're not playing well enough for them or well enough for ourselves.
"Personally I felt it. I don't know what you guys think, but I felt we got better in the second half. We played better football ... we need something to get us going. We're going to take that second half and build on the momentum."
But why the Bengals came out in such a funk is a mystery. They were coming off a bye week and were playing a team that hadn't scored in the first quarter all year or had a lead in the first half and Cincinnati promptly fell behind, 3-0, and 10-7.
The Chiefs, who rushed for 10 yards the week before, got 106 from running back Larry Johnson in the first half.
"It's always the same reasons when a back goes for 100 yards," said defensive end Justin Smith. "Missed tackles and guys not in their gaps."
But why so bad in the first half, so good in the second half?
The Bengals committed two 15-yard penalties on the opening drive to give up the field goal (free safety Madieu Williams' facemask on the kickoff and cornerback Blue Adams' hit of Chiefs quarterback Damon Huard in the head) and Kyle Larson's line drive punt combined with poor coverage put the Chiefs at the Cincinnati 44 to set up Kansas City's first touchdown.
But the punt came courtesy of Palmer missing a wide open Chad Johnson on the sideline with a low throw that would have been for a first down.
Left tackle Levi Jones, who had a Pro Bowl-caliber year in 2005, couldn't block Chiefs right end Jared Allen, giving him 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the first 17 minutes and had to be benched.
"For being 1-4, Marvin said it best; we played better in the second half and played as a team," Palmer said. "In the first half we played bad football. (In the second half) we were fired up, the defense was making plays, getting turnovers. I thought it was a great point by Marvin. We just didn't play as a team in the first half. We were all over the place.
"(Then) we had the momentum. We all felt we were fine. It was 10 points and we thought it was very manageable if not to win, but to tie with a field goal at the end."
Smith had his first sacks of the season (1.5) in those opening minutes and he heard what Lewis was saying but he also knew what just happened.
"In this situation, you're looking for anything positive," Smith said. "Trying to figure it out is all you can do and start climbing out of this thing."
There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, but Palmer keeps looking and sees no lack of confidence when asked if his team is pressing.
"I don't think we want to feel like every game is a must win. We still have a lot of games left," Palmer said. "You want guys that want to win and expect to win and are frustrated when we lose."