Posted: 7:45 p.m.
The Bengals have allowed just an average of 277 yards in their last four games for their best four-game defensive streak in six years.
That 2001 run of 267 per game went a long way in changing quarterbacks and tapping Gus Frerotte for Cincinnati in free agency after the season when the offense failed to capitalize in an 0-4 stretch.
Naturally, the 36-year-old Frerotte comes to town Sunday as the Rams backup a week after engineering last Sunday's 28-16 win over Atlanta.
These Bengals have suffered similarly on offense and have gone just 2-2. But don't look for any changes with a quarterback situation as solid as it is even though Carson Palmer is coming off one of his worst games in his 57 NFL starts.
"It's very unusual, he was inconsistent and we'll let it go at that," said head coach Marvin Lewis after Palmer had a 51.6 passer rating and 39-percent completion rate in the 24-10 loss in Pittsburgh.
Palmer "Carson's a fine player, and he will be fine. We just have to make sure that we're protecting him when we need to protect him, and that he's on his mark and doing his job, and that we're in the right spots, whether it be the running game or passing game."
Cincinnati lost all four games from Nov. 11-Dec. 2, 2001 to fall from 4-3 to 4-7 in a stretch that helped convince the Bengals that they couldn't win with Jon Kitna. While holding teams to an average of 267 yards per game, the Bengals could only average 8.3 points as Kitna threw two touchdowns and six interceptions.
The mindset lured the Bengals to Frerotte, but an even-handed quarterback derby in the preseason failed to get anybody ready for 2002 and Frerotte ended up making only three starts and completing just 52 percent of his 85 passes before Kitna finished the season in the last 12 games in a move that ended up securing the drafting of Palmer No. 1 overall in 2003.
Frerotte came into the Nov. 25 game against Seattle after Rams starter Marc Bulger suffered a concussion and dropped a snap for a game-ending tackle on the Seattle 5 with 30 seconds left in a game the Rams would have won with a touchdown.
But on Sunday against the Falcons Frerotte threw for 230 yards and three touchdowns for a near-perfect 152.1 passer rating in the first half.
If Bulger passes some tests this week, Rams coach Scott Linehan has indicated he'd be cleared to play in Cincinnati.
The Bengals backup quarterback is Ryan Fitzpatrick, the man Frerotte made expendable in St. Louis and why the Rams traded him to the Bengals on the eve of this season for a draft pick.
Smith'01 SURVIVOR: Defensive end Justin Smith, the only player left from that '01 unit that finished ninth for the highest ranking on defense over the past 18 seasons, thinks this unit turned it around when it stopped thinking about such things as rankings.
"It's a team and I think sometimes our problem is we don't always have the team attitude," Smith said Monday. "The bottom line in this league, everybody gets so concerned about yards against you, you've got to win. The best teams really don't care about any of that other crap. They care about winning. I don't think we're there yet.
"Defensively, that's one thing we've talked about. We don't care who makes a play. We're just happy somebody's making a play. I think that's been one of our major turning points."
The line in the sand has been drawn from the ninth game on and Smith agrees with the assertion that it stems from a more stable lineup. But he insists the defense can't dwell on an offense that scored just three points on three drives that started inside the Steelers 29, or converted just five of 15 third downs after the first drive.
"The best defensive mentality is you can only control what happens on the field when you're out there," Smith said. "Just the attitude that you've got to stop them. When you start to fray and pull apart is when you start to point fingers at each other. (The offense) could have easily been doing that to us in the first eight weeks. ... We need to pull together and focus on the good and positive and rally behind each other."
At 4-8, this is the first December since 2004 that Lewis doesn't have a possible playoff run to keep his team interested. The worst the Bengals have been in December since he arrived has been 6-8 in '04.
The motivation is called 'professional athletics,' " Lewis said. "You're a pro. You're either going to be a pro, or you won't be here. It's that easy. You don't have to motivate anyone."
LewisSAME MISTAKES: One view of why the Bengals have struggled to have winning seasons under Lewis is that despite their athleticism and speed, they lack focus and make mistakes that cut into their consistency in all three phases. The special teams have been solid for a month but suddenly faltered in Pittsburgh.
"As a staff, we have to coach better. We weren't as consistent in areas as we need to be. Same thing in special teams," Lewis said. "A lot of good things, but we had a penalty for offsides (rookie safety Chinedum Ndukwe on a kickoff), a penalty for a block (below the waist by second-year running back DeDe Dorsey on a punt), and a fumble (second-year wide receiver Glenn Holt on a kickoff that led to the score that put the Bengals down for good), and missed a field goal (veteran Shayne Graham's 43-yarder that would have made it 10-0).
"Those four plays were very significant in the football game, and they make a huge difference."
Dorsey's miscue came on the first series of the second half and put the Bengals on their own 25 instead of their 35. The last thing the Steelers needed with a 17-10 lead with 22 minutes left in the game was five extra yards, but Ndukwe gave it to them so that they started from the Steelers 39 on the touchdown drive that finalized it with 1:34 left in the first quarter.
The same thing happened with what may have been the most crushing penalty of the game. The Bengals, staring at a third-and-two from the Pittsburgh 20, had a shot to take control at 14-0 but right tackle Stacy Andrews false-started and the drive ended up in the missed field goal. Andrews had two of those penalties Sunday and those little things are beginning to detract from what he has accomplished manning up in place of Pro Bowler Willie Anderson in his first six starts ever at tackle.
Andrews "I think Stacy, physically, has done some things pretty well. The things that have disappointed me the most have been the false-start penalties, and he had two yesterday," Lewis said. "Those are significant, because they came at inopportune times. Yesterday, when we were at a critical point in the football game, third down and two, at the 20, now we're back up to third-and-seven. It's important that he does a better job with those kind of things."
He could have been speaking for his entire team.
Center Eric Ghiaciuc, who gamely played through a knee injury, made a mistake when he quick-snapped the ball because he thought the Steelers were in the neutral zone. Down 17-7 on the first series of the second half, the Bengals had ripped off two first downs and had a first at the Pittsburgh 42.
But the quick snap cost the Bengals a yard and they couldn't recover from the second-and-11.
It was erroneously reported by Bengals.com after the game that backup center Alex Stepanovich made the mistake. He had been going in and out of the game, but at that point was not in.
INJURY UPDATE: Lewis said Anderson (knee) has a chance to play for the first time since the Oct. 21 win over the Jets.
"(Free safety) Madieu Williams has a thigh bruise. Eric Ghiaciuc has a strained knee ... and Glenn Holt has a strained shoulder," Lewis said. "I think Madieu probably won't be able to do much on Wednesday, the other guys, maybe a little limited on Wednesday."
CARSON's NUMBERS: Palmer failed to throw a touchdown pass Sunday, but he can still become the fifth fastest to 100 career touchdown passes with one in his 58th game against the Rams. The second-worst passer rating of his career has dropped him to 15th in the NFL to 87, still better than Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning.