Posted: 9:10 p.m.
The survivors insist that the 2002 Bengals don't begin to compare to this year's edition that is taking that same 0-7 record to Houston.
"What? Are you crazy? Not even close," said Chad Ocho Cinco, who caught a touchdown pass in that game.
And fellow wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who didn't, agreed Wednesday.
"You can't compare. Just from a team aspect as far as discipline, it's way different and better," Houshmandzadeh said. "From the outside looking in, it doesn't look like that. That's how it is. When you lose, you lose bad."
The offensive numbers may be actually worse than what the 2-14 team had through seven games (1,981 yards to 1,579 now) before the Bengals beat the Texans, 38-3 on Nov. 3, 2002.
LewisBut head coach Marvin Lewis is looking at more than decimal points. Lewis, dying inside like everybody else, says this Bengals team has "the best group of guys we've had." He only goes as far back as '03 and says this team has "a better group of guys, a better group of players, we're just not getting it done" than that one.
"When I come down for practice with about two minutes to go, I don't have a guy sitting in the corner," Lewis said Wednesday. "(Now) everyone is where they're supposed to be. It's just different. We had a guy's car towed this week and there was nothing said. Park in the right spot and nothing happens. For whatever reason, right now, we're just not jiving together (on the field). We're just going to keep pushing it until it does. Hopefully, we'll have a stronger foundation than we had originally because it was obviously not as strong as everyone perceived it to be."
Lewis remembers firing the warning shot early about the mental approach to the game. He goes back to Dec. 18, 2005, that day in Detroit the Bengals clinched the AFC North.
"That was my point after we beat the Lions to win the division," said Lewis, his team 17-28 since that day. "Everybody wanted to make us world champions. We had a long ways to go. That's the thing I was pointing to that day when everybody was all giddy and happy. There was a lot of work left to do. There's some more (team spirit) now. It's just younger.
"I think there are going to be more guys trained correctly when we get through this. They'll have realized that they've earned this and they've earned the other side when the other side comes."
Proof that the chemistry seems to be less volatile than '02 (and even '05) appeared in the headlines on NFL.com Wednesday evening.
"LJ to be deactivated Sunday," documents the latest sad twist in the Larry Johnson saga. "Winslow to appeal suspension," pits one of Cleveland's best players against the Browns themselves. "Romo not likely to return until after bye week," is a reminder that the underachieving (sound familiar?) Cowboys have that T.O undertow.
But Ocho Cinco and Houshmandzadeh, both known for emotional explosions on (Houshmandzadeh) and off (Ocho Cinco) the field have been saying and doing all the right things.
"You don't have to look any further than the end of your nose to analyze why things are the way they are," Lewis said. "And I think they've taken that to heart, to understand that they are two guys or a group that can do something about it, and play better, and they have. I think they've risen to that occasion."
Maybe it can be found in the revised practice time for this week. Lewis moved practice from 11:45 a.m.-2 p.m. to 1-3. Note that it is 15 minutes shorter. For years, Houshmandzadeh has been a noisy advocate for getting Lewis to cut short his practices. Now Houshmandzadeh is a captain and ... ?
Houshmandzadeh "I don't know why he did it," Houshmandzadeh said. "All I can tell you is that if Coach Lew doesn't want to do something, it's not going to happen. We've been in every game in the fourth quarter and maybe he thought we didn't have enough left and he's just trying to get us off our feet a little bit and rest the legs. But, yeah, we still care about how it's going. At 0-7, you've got to. Coaches and players. We go to him and talk."
Houshmandzadeh, who saw some crazy things in '01 and '02, agrees with his coach that more players are toeing the line. But he can't believe it's not translating to wins.
"Guys are getting on time to meetings and to practice and everyone is supposed to be where they're supposed to be," said Houshmandzadeh, who is still trying to play with emotion. "You say volatility. Maybe there can be no volatility at 0-7. I know that for some athletes, myself included, that's what makes them good because they do play with emotion. But maybe it's maturity, too."
Heck, in '02 Ocho Cinco guaranteed a win in Houston. On Wednesday, he allowed only his team has a chance to go 8-8.
"I think we're fortunate right now to still have a good, spirited group," Lewis said. "We have guys who understand and want to be looked upon as good players, and so they're competing not only for a chance to play here on this team, but to win and be successful."
"I think our captains have done a good job," said Lewis of keeping players into the details. "Even Carson (Palmer), who's been injured, continues to be a big voice and a strong leader, which is difficult to do when you're not playing. I commend him for that and hope he continues to reinforce that among the guys. I think all the guys elected a captain have their own challenges and their own mantra they've got to carry into each and every meeting, each and every session, each and every practice, each and every period."
Houshmandzadeh sighed. The Bengals could have all the chemistry of a pharmacy and it won't hide how miserable the offense has been.
"The offense," said Houshmandzadeh, who was on the '01 team that had 12 TDs out of 602 passes, "is as bad as it has ever been." And not because there is a backup quarterback playing.
"We play well around (quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick)," he said, "and he'll play well. Fitz is good."
Even with Palmer quarterbacking four of the games the numbers are comparable or worse to the week the Bengals went to Houston in '02. Back then they were getting 4.3 yards per carry for 774 yards on the ground. Now it's 3.2 yards per for 517 yards.
(On the eighth anniversary of Corey Dillon's NFL record 278-yard game, that is more than half this year's total rushing).
The Bengals do have more points (98-75) than they had going into this game in '02, but they've allowed more sacks (26-20). They've thrown one more TD pass (5-4), and six fewer interceptions (13-7). On defense they've given up 76 fewer yards, 29 fewer points, and five fewer TD passes.
The Bengals will have to play like they did against the Giants and Cowboys on the road if they are to repeat history and stop the 0-7 madness in Reliant Stadium like they did in '02. John McClain, the "Mr. NFL" of Houston who has covered the league for 32 years and is with the Houston Chroniclehas been saying all week that both teams are better than they were in '02, and the Texans, now 2-4, are a more than estimable offensive unit with wide Andre Johnson's personal Oktoberfest in which he's averaging 150 yards per game.
The Texans are better, obviously, because they were an expansion team playing a rookie quarterback in '02. The Bengals because they were being outscored by an average of 20 points back then and next to Elvis impersonators drew the ultimate Vegas insult when the Texans were favored for the first time in their history. This year, McClain points out, the Bengals have lost three games by eight points or less, and took NFC East powers Dallas and New York late into games.
And only four Bengals are left from that game (Ocho Cinco, Houshmandzadeh, left tackle Levi Jones, long-snapper Brad St. Louis) as well as three Texans (kicker Kris Brown, guard Chester Pitts, cornerback DeMarcus Fagans).
McClain notes that Fitzpatrick is returning to the scene of his greatest triumph, his 2005 NFL debut with the Rams in which he came off the bench to pass for 310 yards to cap a 21-point comeback in an overtime win.
"The Bengals still have some spark with those receivers if Fitzpatrick can come anywhere close to what he did here before," McClain said. "The Texans haven't been good on defense. They give up some big plays down the field and they have only one pass rusher (Mario Williams). Nobody else has more than one sack. But they can move it up and down the field offensively."