HOUSTON - The character question has been raised by one of the all-time great Bengals. But the '08 Bengals have brought it on themselves by getting outscored, 49-3, in the second half the last two games.
CBS had a field day with the Bengals' 35-6 loss here to the Texans. After they called cornerback Johnathan Joseph's failed tag play on Kevin Walter's 39-yard touchdown pass "lazy," Boomer Esiason blasted them for giving up on head coach Marvin Lewis.
"What I say to them now is they have to find a way, we all have to find a way collectively to flip our psyche because they are going to feel beaten down," Lewis said. "They are going to have to find a way, and we will find a way to come out and have a great week of preparation and get ready to play a football game and win a football game at home. After this one, we're going to have to have the 24-hour rule, we're going to have to flush this bad boy because there is not much good that occurred in the second half of this game I don't think. We'll have to see what the tape shows."
While Esiason made his comments in the studio, the Bengals faced the same questions in the Reliant Stadium locker room.
Lewis himself said he wanted to watch the tape, but he said he didn't feel that way and felt it was simply not playing well.
"In coaching when you are calling plays offensively and defensively you get things matched up exactly and then we don't make the play today and that was disappointing," Lewis said. "Really disappointing and we don't have many options. It's not like you've got someone who is going to ride in and save you because we are playing with the best guys we've got so we are going to have to find a way to get these players better and put them in the right holes and the right gaps on offense, defense and special teams and go."
Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who thinks "for the most part" the effort is there, says he's not throwing in anything because "I wasn't born that way."
"At times it is hard, but when you have pride about what you do and about yourself, you're going to compete and when everybody has that we won't put on a performance like we have the last two games," Houshmandzadeh said. "When you lose you play with less confidence and when things aren't going well, you might tend to hang your head. If we get a touchdown on one of the two drives (in the first half), the game might go a little differently."
Tackle John Thornton, one of the defense's three starters with more than five years experience, insisted that his team had not thrown in the towel despite the numbers.
"We don't have a problem with effort. Other than that one play where (Johnathan Joseph) tagged him down, that was a mistake by him," Thornton said. "But we don't have any guys quitting or effort problems. That's not the case."
Joseph said he thought Walter was already down and the tag would suffice but the refs ruled Walter scrambled to his feet as Joseph tagged him.
"Like I said," Joseph said, "if I didn't think he was down, I would have jumped on him. I thought he was down. They ruled a touchdown."
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick knows the numbers look bad.
"To tell you the truth we've had good practices," he said. "It's hard because if you look at the last two games we've really struggled in the second half and some of that is effort you would think. But just from the attitude from the guys in the locker room, everybody is still fighting and everybody still wants to win so I don't think you can pin it on that."
Wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco says that Lewis has his team in the program.
"It's there. It's there. It's there, (but) I'm not watching everybody," he said of the effort. "I'm making sure that I'm doing my assignment and my stuff 110 percent."
Asked if the 110 percent effort will be there throughout the remainder of the season, Ocho Cinco said, "It will be there. We don't have the type of individuals to just lay down. And they're not going to allow us to lay down."
Lewis felt Joseph didn't finish and was more upset he let Walter beat him off the line of scrimmage and fend him off as they went across the field.
"He's got to just touch him down, you know, you've got to be there," Lewis said. "He got pushed off the route a little bit. Kevin Walter gave him a little shove, but he's got to get there and get him down. That's part of football, professional football, you know, he gets there and Kevin's already back on his feet. You've got to make the tackle, just make the tackle. "
Then there was the take of Texans left tackle Duane Brown when asked if Houston tired out the Bengals.
"Oh yeah, you could tell. You'd get close to the line of scrimmage, you could see it in their eyes," Brown said. "Their will to win, it was gone. You know, they were just trying to make it through the game it looked like. We just kept taking it to them."
Right guard Bobbie Williams, the offensive line leader and one of the last out of the locker room as he patienty met the media, had the last word.
"As long as they have the stripes on their helmet, I know they're going to come out and fight, and I feel it's my duty to make sure that the guys are coming out to fight," Williams said. "That's all I can do is just try to rally the troops to come out and fight. We're not giving up. We're not going to give up, and I plan on just proving that by play."