Last week after losing at Dallas, Marvin Lewis told his players to look in the mirror and figure out what they need to do better.
This week after losing at New England, they need only to look at the Patriots.
"I'm going to give the Patriots all the credit in the world," said right guard Kevin Zeitler. "They're a very good team and they showed why they are always in contention."
Brandon LaFell spent the last two seasons playing for Bill Belichick. After the game, I asked him if the Patriots ever beat themselves.
"Hardly ever," he told me. "I would say in the two years I was here, we probably beat ourselves like once out of the 32 games in the regular season."
For 2 ½ quarters, the Bengals outplayed New England and led 14-10. But the lead should have been bigger.
"We had the opportunity to control the football game and let the damn thing get away from us," said head coach Marvin Lewis.
The difference between the two teams is that the Bengals made crucial mistakes and the Patriots didn't.
"We can't keep shooting ourselves in the leg," said right tackle Eric Winston.
Case in point, an illegal contact penalty on Dre Kirkpatrick that extended a New England drive when it was third-and-18 late in the first half. Five Tom Brady passes later; the Patriots were in the end zone.
"I felt like it was a bad call, but you've got to play through bad calls sometime," said Kirkpatrick.
Despite that costly mistake, the Bengals had the ball and a four point lead midway through the third quarter. But a 15 yard pass to A.J. Green was wiped out by a holding penalty on Cedric Ogbuehi. On the next play, Dont'a Hightower came in unblocked on a delayed blitz and tackled Andy Dalton for a safety. That ignited a Patriots run of 15 points in a 4:07 span.
"We had the ball up by four and we've got to go up by two scores," said Winston. "When you're playing a good team, you've got to provide your defense that cushion."
"We made some mistakes today that cost us the game," said linebacker Karlos Dansby. "We can't do that. We're slapping ourselves about that."
They were still in the game in the fourth quarter when they drove to the New England 7-yard line trailing 25-14. But as has been the case far too frequently this season, the Bengals settled for a field goal. Through six games, the Bengals have scored 8 touchdowns in 17 red zone trips (47%). The Patriots have 12 touchdowns in 18 red zone trips (67%).
"That's been our Achilles heel all year," said Green. "Putting the ball in the end zone in the red zone.
"When you've got Tom Brady across from you, you need all the points you can get."
"When you get opportunities against this team you've got to punch the clock and take advantage," said LaFell. "If you don't, things like this happen."
There were some encouraging signs in Sunday's loss and if the Bengals play like they did for the first 38 minutes, they can beat anybody left on their schedule. But they're going to have be far more Patriot-like than they've been so far.
"I think there was some growing today," said Zeitler. "I think that anyone that watched could see some good things on both sides of the ball. Now it's time to get back to work and figure out the next step."
"This league is about 60 minutes," said Winston. "A lot of decent teams can go out there and keep it close for thirty. We have to put two halves together and finish the deal. Frankly, right now we're not doing that."\
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