Simmons: No comparison to '01 (Bengals photo)
"I remember when we were 2-0, everyone was walking around saying, 'Awesome, I've never been 2-0,' " said Jon Kitna, who quarterbacked that 2-0 start. "And when we were 4-3 at the bye, their eyes were as wide as saucers. The most surprised guys in the country were in our locker room. It's different now. These guys expect to be 2-0."
Nine players are here who lived that start with safety Kevin Kaesviharn not arriving until late October and fullback Nick Luchey on the physically unable to perform list. It was offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's first season here and for him there's nothing to talk about.
"Different team, different atmosphere, different leadership involved," Bratkowski said. ""There's a very good quality of player in the locker room, maybe better than what we had back then, and we're more mature."
Several key players now were rookies that season, particularly in the core of the offense with wide receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and running back Rudi Johnson, as well as one starter on defense, left end Justin Smith.
"Different atmosphere. Different bunch of players. The staff is different," Chad Johnson said. "Something like that of that nature is not likely to happen under Marvin Lewis."
What happened is the '01 Bengals embarked on an infamous seven-game losing streak after the 4-3 bye week, losing three games in that stretch by four points or less in cutting the heart out of the Dick LeBeau era.
"Two and oh can go to crap in a hurry," Smith said.
"They don't write books about teams that go 2-0," said linebacker Brian Simmons, one of five vets (Kitna, Willie Anderson, Rich Braham and Brad St. Louis) on that team still here.
Which is the kind of thing Lewis has been preaching and the fact he's got some key guys who lived it helps his argument.
"They're a playmaking, influential chunk of our football team, which is a good thing," said Lewis of the '01 rookies. "They know the other side of that, where it went from there."
Even the players who played against the 2001 Bengals know that this is a different trip for this locker room.
"When we played the Bengals, I saw it as a game to pad my stats and now we know those days are long gone," said defensive tackle Bryan Robinson, who played for, of all people the Bears when the Bengals were flying high at 3-2 in 2001. "We know that it's not one of those games where I can make my incentive or whatever it is. It's not like that now. I can definitely say it's not the same group of guys in '01."
Ironically, Robinson was on that Bears team in 2001 that manhandled Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium in a game that typified the deeper problems of the program. The Bengals were coming off a huge win over Cleveland at home to go to 3-2, but could manage just 35 yards against Chicago in a dreadful 24-0 shutout.
"We played worse after a win than after a loss," Simmons said. "We couldn't really handle things when they went well. We were ready for the bad stuff."
The difference is clearly Lewis. "This team and organization has different goals now than we did back then," Simmons said.
Houshmandzadeh said the players aren't in a tizzy this time because Lewis is setting the tone.
"He's been here before. He's had success. Guys know that, so they expect to be successful, too," Houshmandzadeh said, and defensive tackle John Thornton, a member of that Titans team that also beat the Bengals at PBS in '01, says the mind game is pretty important.
Thornton has never been shy about revealing that the weeks Titans head coach Jeff Fisher would prepare for the Bengals, he would tell his team in so many words, "keep playing hard because they'll find a way to lose it at the end." Lewis has ended all that with a hard-line approach that he's borrowed heavily from the Patriots.
"He puts a lot on us as far how we play, but the things that he can control," Thornton said, "like practice, meetings, taking notes, yelling, stuff like that, he's on top of that. He's tops in the league."
If there's one thing the players agree on, it's that Lewis has no problems humbling them. Which may have been the problem four years ago. Not enough humility despite the futility.
"It's good that we feel good about ourselves. These guys deserve that," Kitna said. "That's going to bring more and the confidence grows. This league is all about a mentality. It's too bad because we had a chance to accomplish some things in '01."
Two and oh just hasn't happened every day around here, and it certainly doesn't secure anything. Only nine times in 38 seasons have the Bengals gone 2-0. Five of those teams didn't go to the playoffs. The other four did. Both Super Bowl teams went 2-0, but so did Dave Shula twice and, of course, LeBeau once:
2-0 Starts and Finish:
- 1969: 4-9-1 1972: 8-6 1975: 11-3, Divisional Playoff 1981: 12-4, AFC Champions 1988: 12-4, AFC Champions 1990: 9-7, Divisional Playoff 1992: 5-11 1995: 7-9 2001: 6-10