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No two-minute warning

Cedric Benson

Next to the cart taking Carson Palmer off the field in the '05 playoffs, it was the worst two-and-a-half minutes in Paul Brown Stadium history.

This time, Palmer got carted off on the shield of his offense's maddening inconsistency and the 63,888 gaping in horror at his two interceptions in the final 2:28 that turned into 10 Tampa Bay points had the same sickening feeling as that day.

It is going to be a long haul to get to where the Bengals want to go after such hope and promise.

"I think it's time for guys in this locker room to man up and to all take the blame," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "Each one of us. It's all our fault and we all have to fix it."

At 2-3 with back-to-back losses to two teams the Bengals dominate on paper and the final 11 games against teams with a 28-23 record, the finger-pointing has already begun. But at least it's early enough that guys are pointing into the mirror heading into the bye week.

Head coach Marvin Lewis blamed himself for calling that pass on third-and-13 from his own 38 with 2:28 left and the Bengals leading, 21-14.

"I will take responsibility," Lewis said.

Carson Palmer blamed himself for throwing the interception.

"I'm the quarterback," he said.

Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco blamed himself for letting Palmer's final pass glance off his hands for the last interception that led to the winning points.

"Even with the ball being off, my (butt) is supposed to save the day, regardless. So there's no excuse. If I can put my hands or fingertip on it, it's supposed to be a catch," The Ocho said.

Wide receiver Terrell Owens admitted he pushed off on the play before the last interception, negating a second-and-one from the Tampa Bay 34 and setting up the dreaded first-and-20 from the Bengals 47.

"We're just a little off and have been a number of times. I'm just speaking for the offense. But when you lose three times, we're probably a little off all over the place," Palmer said. "Offensively, we're not playing good enough, and I didn't play good enough today. Being the quarterback, it's my job to find a way to win. That's the No. 1 thing that you define a quarterback by. We didn't win, so it's my fault."

Told that Lewis had already taken the blame, Palmer offered, "Like I said, I'm the quarterback of this team. I need to find ways to win the football game."

Owens, in his 15th season, has heard it before.

"That's protocol for the coach; that's the mentality," Owens said. "He's the head coach. He's going to try and shoulder it. We can't allow him to be accountable for what we're doing on the field. We're not doing a good job."

Safety Chris Crocker admitted the whole scenario is "stunning." From losing to a quarterback in his 13th NFL start a week after losing to a quarterback in his 17th NFL start to blowing a seven-point lead in the final 1:26.

"We are how we look on tape. We're a 2-3 team and not a good team," he said.

Most would say Lewis' style on third-and-13 is to play for the punt and let his defense make the opposing offense go 80 yards for the tie. Some would say that's what he would have done last year. But on Sunday he said he wanted "to be aggressive" and to not play "scared."    

Running back Cedric Benson could have pointed the biggest finger. The Bucs didn't touch him all day and yet he touched it just 23 times for 144 yards. But he deferred.

"That's the call that was called; we have to make it work," Benson said. "There's going to be all kind of speculation about what should have been done. But what was called was called and we have to get the first down. The opportunity was there. The situation was there. We've got to make the plays."

Lewis bellowed at his team after it was over. It sounded like he was the maddest he's been postgame since the New England debacle on Monday night, when the rule came down the next day that media couldn't stand outside the locker room and listen through the doors.

He might have given Bengals Radio analyst Dave Lapham a taste of what he told them when asked about the bitter bye week taste.

"It is what it is," Lewis told Lapham. "We have to drop the egos and get back to work. Bring your shovel and go to work. Quit worrying about who you are."

Even before the microwave implosion the writing had been on the wall for the offense all day. Four pre-snap penalties. Two dropped third-down passes. One out of two in red zone touchdowns.  

"We can't let Marvin take the blame for this one," Whitworth said.

The collapse was so quick and thorough that it brought out the worst in Bengaldom when the crowd greeted the announcement of Palmer passing the 20,000-yard mark with boos until some fans caught a hold of the moment and began cheering.

Palmer may not have been brilliant with a 21-of-36 day for 209 yards, but he didn't get a lot of help from his coaches and teammates, either. His three interceptions led to 17 points, but all three were preceded by a penalty.

His bad throw to the left sideline that tied the game at seven on Cody Grimm's 11-yard interception return came on first-and-13 from the Cincinnati 3 after a hold was called on tight end Reggie Kelly. The pick by Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib on the ill-fated third-and-13 came a snap after tight end Jermaine Gresham was called for a hold. The pick of The Ocho's drop came right after Owens' pass interference penalty.

"He guessed and ran to the route that we were running. Looking back now, I shouldn't have thrown it. I wish I wouldn't have thrown the ball, obviously," Palmer said of Grimm's play. "We started off with a handful of penalties in the first quarter and we never got those out of our system. They are not difficult things; they are easy things that we are screwing up on. We're a little bit off. You can't beat anyone is this league when you're a little bit off."

Indeed, the Bengals had four false starts in the game's first 20 minutes, two in the first series. And the defense wasn't immune, either, when left end Robert Geathers lined up in the neutral zone in the first series.

"We had some key penalties. Some drops on third down and some mistakes that you just can't have," Whitworth said. "You start to dig too deep into it and you start thinking that you're not playing too well. That's not the issue. The issue is that we are killing ourselves. We have got to stop doing it. We have got to stop jumping on the knife ourselves and be more efficient."

Told that it looked like the Bengals had let one get off the hook, Whitworth could only agree.

"That's an understatement. I think that we really felt like we were in control of the game for a second, and then we messed it up. If we were better in the first quarter — if we were better in the first half — then it's not an issue. Continually, penalties and silly plays are hurting us. You just can't continue to do that."

The details are ringed with yellow tape this Monday morning. It is where the devil lives: In the details.

"It's frustrating, frustrating," The Ocho said. "We keep saying the same thing after all three losses. I don't know what to say … every team has the same mistakes. Some are able to overcome them more. Except in our case, we have to keep the same mistakes to a minimum because we're not excelling in all areas. They're under a microscope and magnified because we aren't playing extremely well. We have to damn near play perfect football, which is kind of hard."

Owens recalled what he said to the NFL Network's Michael Irvin his week in their sit-down.

"There were enough mistakes and penalties and things to make us look at ourselves in the mirror and know that we are better than what we are," Owens said. "I did an interview with Michael Irvin the other day, and he asked me why we were 2-2 prior to this game. Most of it has been self-inflicted mistakes, whether they are mental errors, penalties or turnovers. There is no way today that we should have lost the game. At some point, we have to clean up those areas if we are going to be the team that is expected of us.

"It's all of it. It's a matter of concentration. It isn't anything that the coaches don't harp on every week, and every week is pretty much the same thing. I don't know how you correct it. We're adults. We're professionals. We just have to find ways to eliminate those mistakes."

Now the idea is to keep the fingers pointing in the mirror. Benson said he could have made some bigger runs.

"We lost this game because we let them stay in this game and we gave them the opportunity to win this game," Benson said of the mistakes. "What is this, Week 5 for us now? We've got to put those things behind us. It boils down to us."

Whitworth says this team won't implode in the locker room after imploding in the final 2:28.

"I won't let it," he said. "We're going to down to Atlanta (in two weeks) and put on a show."

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