Players look to players

Posted: 6:20 a.m.

There is frustration inside, panic outside, and one of the NFC's best offenses looming in Seattle next Sunday.

With the Seahawks and No. 1 ranked New England next on the schedule, everyone in 1-1 Bengaldom knows that only eight teams since 2000 have made the playoffs after starting 1-3 and only one of them, those Bill Belichick Patriots that arrive Oct. 1 as the anointed favorites, have won the Super Bowl.

The AFC North/Central has been so competitive, that the 2002 Steelers are the only team in the Bengals division to survive a 1-3 start since 1990 and make the playoffs.

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Thornton

"If we're going to be an up-and-down team," mused defensive captain John Thornton on Monday, "then we should play a lot better next week."

The numbers would say one of these next two games is a must and that Sunday's 51-45 defensive implosion in Cleveland is going to inflict changes. But if head coach Marvin Lewis wouldn't talk about taking over at least some of the play calling, his players insisted the 554 yards invoked by the Browns are not a coaching issue.

"It doesn't have anything to do with the coach," Thornton said. "There wasn't anything wrong with the game plan. They don't make tackles. There's not much a coach can do. It's a player's issue. Players need to get their stuff together. The good thing is, this is a business and if you keep screwing up you're not going to be out there."

We've heard it all before, right? Not in the right gaps? Not trusting the defense? Not playing fast?

Rewind to Oct. 23, 2005 when the Steelers rolled up over 200 yards rushing in a 27-13 victory. Go back to last November when the Chargers rung up 42 second-half points and strong safety Dexter Jackson said after a LaDainian Tomlinson touchdown run, "No one was in their right lanes. Be where you're supposed to be. You have to be accountable. That's our slogan - 'Do our job.' "

And now the 51 points in the second game of the 2007season to a Cleveland team that hadn't scored that many combined in the five previous games, and defensive end Justin Smith sitting numbly in the locker room talking about how the Bengals couldn't even execute a dumbed-down base defense.

"Just fundamentals, dumb stuff," he said.

Defensive end Bryan Robinson talked about two of Jamal Lewis' runs on the way to 216 yards, a 66-yarder and 47-yarder and said it's a gap here and a gap there and that it wasn't a physical pounding. "I was encouraged by that," he said.

On Monday, Lewis talked about his players' inventions.

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Lewis

"Trying to invent and create a revision on their own," Lewis said. "They probably did it right the first play, and on the next play did it wrong because they're trying to overcome someone else's deficiencies. You have to stay on the same page and not deviate to compensate. That's what happens."

And what heightens the frustration for Thornton is how his body felt Monday morning. After the Bengals lost that 27-13 game to Pittsburgh before the largest crowd ever at Paul Brown Stadium two years ago, he said he couldn't practice for three days.

"I mean, that game we got whipped. It felt like we got manhandled and gave up a lot more points than that," Thornton said. "I guess yesterday that shows you it wasn't a physical thing. Because it's like, 'What just happened?' "

Thornton says the same reasons (not in a gap, doing too much on your own) are always given when someone plays bad defense because, "that's how you play defense."

"I'm sure you if you ask San Diego (after allowing New England 38 points) right now they're saying the same things," Thornton said. "You can come back in 10 years with this team and after a bad game on defense it's going to be mental errors."

The big picture, of course, is this:

After five seasons under a defensive head coach and four straight drafts in which 10 of the last 13 first-day picks have been defenders, how can games like this keep happening?

The Bengals certainly have never had the defense they put out there on the drawing board. Not after losing a first-rounder to injury in David Pollack and a second-rounder in Odell Thurman to two one-year suspensions.

Or even in the short term.

The team did lose middle linebacker Ahmad Brooks and cornerback Johnathan Joseph during Sunday's game, and it doesn't get back starting strong-side linebacker Rashad Jeanty until after the bye. And the Bengals had to figure that this year's first-round pick, cornerback Leon Hall, was going to struggle as most rookie corners do.

Yet does all that translate to allowing 51 points to a quarterback with four NFL starts?

But there is no time to get immersed in the big picture with Seattle now suddenly six days away. And it's another short week because the Bengals are going to fly out Friday for Sunday's game.

"They're put in the right spots. We just have to play consistently," Lewis said. "I keep repeating the same words; they're not going to change. There are a lot of moving parts. All those parts need to be in sync all the time and don't try to create something on your own."

It's the small picture, the next game, that has Thornton's attention.

"We can't point fingers. That would the worst thing we can do right now," he said. "We don't have to do that."

Robinson, who has seen it all in 11 years, has never lost a game his quarterback threw six touchdown passes ("That's tough to swallow," he said) but there is the next game.

"Another thing I'm encouraged by is we have to see Cleveland again," Robinson said. "It's tough that it's mental mistakes, not being where you're supposed to be. We have to get that consistency every day. That part hurts, but I think we can get that covered."

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