Friday, December 17, 2010


How can the Cincinnati Bengals enter Sunday's game against the Browns with a 2-11 record? With virtually the same talent brought back from last season's 10-6 team that won the AFC North, that seems unfathomable.

Only once since being formed by Paul Brown in 1968 have the Bengals finished with just two victories. That was in 2002 before Marvin Lewis arrived and pumped new life into the franchise.

The Bengals drag a 10-game losing streak into Sunday's game with the Browns. They haven't won since knocking off Baltimore and Carolina in weeks two and three.

So what in the world has happened to that team down South that caused it to challenge Carolina and Buffalo for the bottom of the National Football League barrel this season? Are the Bengals really that bad? Has Cincinnati become Bungleland again?

The Bengals certainly seemed to have the talent on offense entering this season, buttressing it with the addition of Terrell Owens. The mouthy one hasn't disappointed with 72 catches, 983 yards and nine touchdowns. And Chad 85, playing a lesser role on the field (but definitely not elsewhere) with Owens on board, still checks in with 65-795-4 TD.

Perhaps it's the offensive line, which has watched as Cincinnati quarterbacks have been dropped 28 times and hammered on countless other dropbacks. Then factor in the running game, which has produced just 88 yards a game, and some reasons for the demise come more clearly into focus.

The Bengals can move the ball all right with Carson Palmer at quarterback. But the strong-armed quarterback has been much more mistake-prone this season, nearly equalling his 21 touchdown passes with 18 interceptions. A stunning five of those picks have been returned for touchdowns.

The defense, which came on so strong last season, gave no indication of bottoming out in 2010. In fact, it was believed by many experts around professional football that the AFC North just might be the strongest in the NFL with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore. Then they played the games.

That supposedly improving Cincinnati defense has hemorrhaged 26.5 points a game. Only Dallas, Houston, Denver and Arizona have surrendered more points. Even pathetic Buffalo and Carolina have given up fewer points.

The Bengals yield 348 yards of total offense a game, including 125 on the ground (warning, warning: the Buffalo Bills are far worse against the run, but neutralized Peyton Hills last week); have allowed 31 touchdowns in 13 games; and managed just 18 sacks, five by part-time rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Not exactly the kind of numbers Lewis expected this season.

A quick peek at last season's results provides a small clue as to why the Bengals are a lock to bring up the rear of the division this season. They played nine games where the margin of victory was seven or fewer points and won eight of those games. This season, they have played seven such games and lost six.

Add it all up and 2-11 doesn't seem so far-fetched. It clearly has jeopardized Lewis' job as head coach. The only given is that the Bengals have played badly enough to the point where any thoughts of retaining Lewis have all but disappeared.

So how does this all impact the Browns, who knocked off the Bengals for their first victory of the season back in week four despite a 371-yard, two-touchdown day for Palmer and a 10-reception, 222-yard, one-TD afternoon for Owens?

This ain't the same Bengals team. This one is deflated and dysfunctional beyond description. Owens, who has maintained a diplomatic stance most of the season, couldn't hold it any longer after the Bengals lost their franchise-tying 10th straight game last week against Pittsburgh.

""I think there's underachieving from the top down," he told Chad 85 on their cable TV show earlier this week. "You start with the owner, you start with the coaches. And obviously we as players, we are a product of what the coaches are coaching us throughout the course of the week.

"Of course, we have to go out there and play the game. But in order for us to do what we're allowed to do at the best of our abilities, the coaches have to put the players in the best position."

Now that Colt McCoy is back under center for the Browns, and even though the game is being played in Cincinnati, look for this one to be a laugher as Cleveland sweeps the season series and sends the underachieving Bengals to a franchise record 11th straight loss. Make it:

Browns 38, Bengals 20

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