Posted: 8:05 a.m.
The start is ugly and so, naturally, is the buzz.
The dead '90s are back in the Bengals locker room, the buzz is. Chad Johnson has turned into Carl Pickens when it comes to killing records and chemistry, Marvin Lewis has no answers, and with no win in 41 days confidence is shot.
But these modern-day Bengals take issue with the buzz. They simply weren't here. Only seven are left from the 2-14 club of 2002. And of those seven, only 12-year veteran Willie Anderson has had more losing seasons in his career than not.
"Years before, guys wouldn't have the conversations we're having now," Anderson says and John Thornton, who wasn't here offers, "A win would cure a whole lot of things."
A win Sunday against the Jets would stop Lewis' longest losing streak since he took over the Bengals in 2003 at four. And if not right the ship or at least get it turned over before the Steelers get in here next Sunday.
"I wasn't here. These players weren't here. So I don't know and they don't know how it was," Thornton says.
Along with defensive end Justin Smith, Johnson and running back Rudi Johnson, wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh arrived in 2001 and went through two seasons at 8-24.
The Bengals went .500 in Anderson's rookie year of 1996 and had to wait seven seasons to do it again. Only he and long snapper Brad St. Louis are left from Paul Brown Stadium's first season of 2000 of 4-12.
A different time, Anderson says.
"Just the conversations we have. We have off-the-field conversations about winning, and trying to figure things out and trying to pinpoint the problem," Anderson says. "(We're) meeting extra and just talking about football. Seven, eight years ago these topics weren't there."
It stretches to the field, where Houshmandzadeh can still feel that sense of dread.
"I don't think we're to that point where nobody thinks we can win," he says. "We used to probably go into games thinking we could win, then as soon as something goes wrong it's, 'We're going to lose.' I don't think it's like that. I don't think anybody thinks, 'We're going to lose this game,' and then when things go bad, 'Oh, guaranteed we're going to lose this game.' It's not like that."
But it probably won't stop the buzz. A few more wins are needed there.
During a week Lewis went on the radio and said he hasn't lost the locker room amid the perception he's got a double-standard for Johnson, Johnson on Friday defended himself and his coach.
Johnson was particularly upset with Whitlock's thesis that lumped him in with athletes like Chiefs running back Larry Johnson that undermine their coaches and teams with elements of what Whitlock calls the "hip-hop culture."
"Tell him, 'Nice try, but he's got the wrong guy,' " Johnson said. "I know he probably had an inside source tell him some of the things he wrote. But of course, it's a little overrated. Untrue. Tell him if he wants to get his name out there, tell him to write about the positives I've done. Stop trying to find the negative because the positive outweighs the negative, especially in my case."
Johnson points to his charity work with "Feed The Children," and his work ethic.
"You know I'm one of the hardest workers in the NFL?" he asks.
Asked about his relationship with Lewis and if Johnson had his back, Johnson said, "Always. Especially when it counts. Out there on Sunday."
Like Thornton says, "What we need is a win," after listening to a barrage of "Are-The-Bad-Bengals-Back?" questions.
"That's what's bad about losing," he says. "You have to answer questions like this."