Bengals stewing at 1-3

Posted: 5:45 a.m.

The Bengals chemistry and maturity is again being questioned more than their talent in the wake of Monday night's treadmill loss.

The scenario has become numbingly the same since the Wild Card loss to the Steelers in the 2005 playoffs:

Bengals lose a game to a contender or a must game deep in the season. The emotion gets the better of them, not the football, and the questions are about when will this team grow up?

Only this time the loss to the unbeaten Patriots is so frustrating that it's got their head coach doing the questioning. After some of his postgame tirade seeped through the locker room door ("No team in the NFL acts like this," he yelled at his team) head coach Marvin Lewis called his team selfish.

So frustrating that even unflappable quarterback Carson Palmer admitted he lost his cool.

According to the Associated Press, Lewis told his team, "If you don't want to be on this team, please don't show up! You don't call the offense, you don't call the plays. You just play. Nowhere in the NFL do guys act like this. We've got to figure this out."

And now the Bengals have either two weeks to drown in it or figure it out with the bye at 1-3 and in a three-game losing streak.

"This is a game of greed, but you have to play it within the scope of what you are asked to do," Lewis said in his postgame news conference. "It's not all about you every play and we have to understand that."

He seemed to be talking about the exchange that Palmer had with wide receiver Chad Johnson after "the play of the game." With 1:14 left in the half and the Bengals trailing, 17-7, Johnson appeared to round off a post pattern and go deeper and straighter than Palmer intended. After cornerback Asante Samuel intercepted at the goal line, Palmer lit into Johnson. Then as they walked off the field at halftime, Johnson appeared to be giving it back at him.

But Palmer took the blame.

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Palmer

"I made a mistake; I threw a ball into where I shouldn't have thrown to, Palmer said. "I got on Chad, but I made a mistake. We're both passionate players, and in the heat of things, sometimes you lose your cool, and I lost my cool. Like I said, I made a mistake and threw a ball I shouldn't have thrown. I should've taken a checkdown there. But I got on Chad and I shouldn't have."

Or, Lewis could have been talking about the exchange he had with wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh when Houshmandzadeh approached him in the third quarter after the Bengals had failed to convert a third down, which they didn't do the entire game.

"I am going to come to the sideline," Houshmandzadeh said. "I am an emotional player, and I am going to voice my opinion. That's what I do. In my opinion, I don't think that it's a bad thing. I just voice my opinion. I'm not disrespectful at all.

"I don't know what Coach Lewis is talking about; I don't know what he's seeing. ... It's frustrating when you expect to win and you're trying to win and the emotion comes out and things are going to be done that shouldn't be done if you were winning."

Houshmandzadeh figures he'll find out what Lewis is talking about at Tuesday's meeting, an unscheduled one on a day that was supposed to be an off day. Palmer has an idea after the Bengals' lack of execution and discipline (they had eight penalties in the second half) were juxtaposed so clearly next to the efficient Patriots.

"I think the main thing is not playing as a team right now and that's what he meant," Palmer said. "It definitely is evident playing against a team that plays as one and doesn't play as individuals. They play as a unit and as a group. And that's where we need to get to. We're not there right now.

"They beat us up and down the field offensively, defensively and special teams-wise. It's evident to our team that's how you win, that's how you win championships. That's how you have a so-called dynasty - you play as one. And it's a good example to us when you don't play as one and you play a team like that, you're going to get beat."

Houshmandzadeh said it's the most upset he's ever seen Lewis ("Why would he be happy?" he asked) and rookie safety Chinedum Ndukwe acknowledged, "We deserved everything he said."

The question now is after the Bengals lost for the first time in orange jerseys (6-1) and at Paul Brown Stadium in prime time (4-1), is Lewis in danger of losing more than six of the last games?

Although the veterans indicated it was a player issue.

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Anderson

"This is about as embarrassing as it gets," said Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson. "We have to look at ourselves as a team. Those guys 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. They are a good team year in and year out. They are a mature bunch of guys, an older team. ... We have to play better than that."

Anderson could have used his notes from last year's postgame mortem following the 38-13 loss to the Patriots.

"I'm worried about the maturity of this team," Anderson said. "We can't play like kids when the other team has grown men."

But Anderson said the tiff between Palmer and Johnson was just heat of the moment, and at least one media member said he saw Palmer and Johnson talking in the parking lot after the game. Johnson chose not to speak after the game.

"Don't make more of that than there is," Anderson said. "That happens in the heat of the moment, and Houshmandzadeh said, "Not everybody is a saint. You can't be all happy-go-lucky about it and walk off the field smiling. It's football. (Palmer) is an emotional player at times. Not as emotional as others, but it's part of the game."

John Thornton, the defensive captain, said there can be no talk of playoffs yet. Just a win.

"We need to get a win; it will calm everybody down," Thornton said. "It's frustrating. We're all frustrated. The worst thing in the NFL that happens is losing. Because you do it in front of everybody. It's going to be tough for awhile. We'll sit on this, but hopefully we'll come back and fight."

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