Posted: 6:05 a.m.
In this bizarre Theater of the Absurd season, it makes absolute sense that wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh pulled off the Bengals' biggest pass play of the year without his senses.
It came on the Bengals' lone scoring drive in one of their worst offensive games in history, a 46-yard play across the middle one snap after Houshmandzadeh leveled a block on Hall of Fame tough-guy Ray Lewis.
"I was dizzy," said Houshmandzadeh of the team's first 40-yard plus play of the season.
The Bengals are on pace to score 201 points this season, their third fewest of all time, and barely break 3,500 yards, their lowest since the 1968 expansion Bengals.
As if to underline physically where they are in the division, in back-to-back games against their smashmouth AFC North rivals the Bengals rushed for a season-low 43 yards against the Steelers Nov. 20 and the second-lowest Sunday came against Baltimore with 57.
And 29 from their quarterback.
"The bottom line is guys aren't finishing," said running back Cedric Benson, after he could manage just 17 yards on 10 carries. "It doesn't matter if it's the first string, second string or third string. If you come out playing hard and get on your guy and you're hitting full speed ahead, something is going to happen. It will keep us in the game just doing that. I think we've just got to bear down, buckle our chinstraps and learn how to play smashmouth football."
It was so bad on Sunday that even the reliable Houshmandzadeh dropped two balls on the way to his four-catch day that brought him to 81 for the season with four games left.
"Part of it is my fault. I dropped two balls that I shouldnt have dropped, and one of them would have given us a first down," Houshmandzadeh said of a ball over the middle on third down early in the game. "That would have been like the long play I had later.
"Football is about giving yourself extra downs to make plays and giving the coordinator a chance to get a feel for the opposing coordinator, and we just aren't giving Brat (offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski) extra plays. They can make mistakes and leave guys open; we just aren't creating enough first downs to put them in a position to make mistakes. We are the ones making the mistakes, and it shows."
Houshmandzadeh said it was a subdued Lewis that met with the team after the game, but he still thinks the Bengals head coach is mentally strong.
"I'm sure he feels like we do," Houshmandzadeh said. "He's frustrated. He looks back on it like we do and says, 'Wow, how could it go this bad?'
"We're playing so bad now, I think we're all playing for jobs. You always know how important the offensive line is and we've got two rookies playing there, but you can't say that. You can't blame any one thing because what's that do for you? Nothing."
Without left tackle Levi Jones (back) and left guard Andrew Whitworth (ankle), the Bengals had a tough time keeping Fitzpatrick clean. The ball slipped out of his hands twice as he threw and he dropped a shotgun snap for two of the four sacks on a slick, rainy day. He also had five passes batted at the line and the stat sheet also said he got hit 11 times.
Right guard Bobbie Williams said it's not a matter of being physical.
"It's been the same song all year," he said. "It's execution, execution, execution. Until we eliminate the physical mistakes, we're going to have games like this."
It's the kind of game that makes you wonder how massive the changes are going to be in 2009. Lewis has two years left on his deal, but he keeps talking about next year and said defiantly after this one that fans won't get another season like this one. He wouldn't discuss what he and Bengals president Mike Brown are talking about these days, but Brown is known for not making a head coaching change with so much time left on a contract and one report said this year that Lewis has been told it's his job as long as he wants it.
Houshmandzadeh said some kind of change has to be coming when it comes to personnel.
"You would think when a team has the terrible record that we have, changes are going to be made. You would assume that the changes will be for the better," he said. "That they will better your team and give you a boost. Obviously, for us to have this type of record, there are a lot of guys that are getting beat or aren't doing what they are supposed to do. And so, they are going to try to get guys in here that will do a better job."
One of those changes could very well be Houshmandzadeh himself. He may be the league's most reliable third-down man, but the club also knows he turns 32 next September and that seems to be standing in the way of the kind of long-term deal he seeks as he heads to free agency.
But amid Sunday's ashes he said he'd like to come back.
"I wouldn't mind coming back," he said. "I came here when we weren't good. Then we got pretty good. Now we're not good. I'm not the type when the ship is sinking to hop off. I could piece it together and try to win some games."
Houshmandzadeh was on the 2-14 club that spawned the massive Lewis changes after 2002. But he sees more talent.
"We have better players," he said. "Why we're not winning, we make mistakes. I drop balls. It's a combination of things. And when you're losing and things start to go bad, you probably get that feeling in your mind of 'Here we go again.' "
Which isn't that dizzy of an explanation.