While Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer ripped his game plan for the Patriots because it was "paralysis by analysis," his players were going through a devastating self-analysis in the first days back to work after what Zimmer called a "fiasco" in last Sunday's opener.
On Monday, safety Chris Crocker said, "We suck." On Wednesday defensive tackle Tank Johnson said the Bengals defense needs to get some of the attitude the Ravens and Jets employed in their slugfest Monday night for this Sunday's game against Baltimore.
"Attitude, attitude," Johnson said when asked what was missing against the Pats. "You have to set your chin. We kind of got knocked back. We have to bounce back. We didn't get knocked out or knocked down. It just made us a little woozy. We've got to go back to our corner, get our little teaching, and get back out here and fight."
Zimmer already gave himself a standing eight count after Wednesday's practice in taking the blame for allowing 17 points in the first 21 minutes of the season.
"The whole thing was my fault; the whole fiasco was my fault," Zimmer said. "I know better than what I did. I've got big enough shoulders to take it.
"The players are good guys. They do what they're asked to do. They play hard. They always do. They played hard the other day. I had them (thinking about) too many things. Paralysis by analysis on a lot of things ... we forgot to play football. My fault."
But Zimmer also sent an urgent message to his players: "It's on them this week. This is the last one I'm taking."
The sense is that Zimmer is simplifying it for Baltimore's highly-ranked running game and dangerous deep ball with max protection, a slew of double moves, and the strong-armed Joe Flacco. The most disturbing thing to Johnson is how the indifferent Patriots running game gouged the Bengals.
"When you get gashed in the running game, it's hard to worry about the pass," Johnson said. "When you've got a quarterback under center and they're at home, you have to sell out on the run. There's nothing more demoralizing than running the ball down your throat. New England had us off balance. We were selling out on the run and they were passing the ball. I think this week we have to shore up the run game early so we can pin their ears back and (pass rush)."
The Bengals won't try to do it with the thick game plan Zimmer brought to New England.
"I tried to make these guys the '85 Bears and we're not at the point yet; my fault," Zimmer said. "There's an old adage: You try to stop everything and you end up stopping nothing and we didn't stop anything instead of remembering what we are and what we do and it's all my fault."
Zimmer had hoped to take last year's fourth-ranked defense with its intact depth chart and move it to the next level with some sophisticated intricacies. For the moment, scratch that.
"We didn't do well,' he said. "It was bad. It's worse than I've had in a long time. But we get them off the field on third down and we don't give up a ton of points."
Johnson says the concepts are still the same.
"Play hard. Play fast. Play reckless," he said. "We've got to play well, but we have to be reckless and fast to the ball. If you make mistakes, make them going full speed and getting to the ball with a nasty attitude."
Johnson knows there is not much separating the Ravens and Bengals. Or the rest in the division. Last year in Baltimore the Bengals needed the last 22 seconds to beat the Ravens. They needed the last 14 seconds to beat the Steelers and the last snap of overtime to beat Cleveland in the tightest three-week run ever through a division.
"Every team we beat by a point or two, they've gotten better," Johnson said. "We were only one or two points better than these guys last year. If we don't improve, those points are on their side.
"In the AFC North, it's about attitude. You know guys are going to come downhill at any point and (the Ravens) are going to keep you off balance and throw the ball deep. Your attitude has to be to stop them on first and second down and make third downs as long as possible. If you give them third-and-short, they'll eat you up with the weapons they have."
And the Ravens have the first team in NFL history with three players that have at least 500 catches.
"We'll try not to give them 1,500," Zimmer said. "They're feisty. They're going to fight you. If we're not ready for a fight, we're probably not going to win."