CINCINNATI -- The low point of the Cincinnati Bengals' season probably wasn’t letting a win against the Pittsburgh Steelers slip away from them in the last minute. It arguably wasn’t two combined losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints by a margin of 96-24.
It’s happening right now.
The Bengals didn’t just lose to the Cleveland Browns at home on Sunday, they were thoroughly dominated by a team they had beaten seven times in a row.
Clearly the Browns don’t see themselves as the little brother anymore, and they weren’t shy about letting the Bengals know. Not only did Browns safety Damarious Randall declare before the game that the Bengals had no chance without A.J. Green, he went out and backed it up just days later.
The Bengals have quickly slid from their perch at the top of the division to the bottom, and there doesn’t appear to be a fix in sight. The offense continues to stall out and the defense hasn’t gotten any better, despite allowing less than 400 yards of net offense for the first time since Week 5.
“We’ve got to bear down,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’ve just got to bear down and relax. We don’t have to press. We’ve just got to bear down and relax and get it done. I’ve got to do my job. I’ve got to do a better job. I’ve got to prepare them better. They’ve got to go out and they’ve got to execute their jobs better, OK? It rests squarely on me.”
But taking a more relaxed approach didn’t seem to help two weeks ago, when a smiling Lewis announced that he had a plan to right the ship after firing defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
That plan included hiring former Browns coach Hue Jackson, whose former players didn’t appear to miss him on Sunday.
They actually seemed to be mocking him instead. When Randall picked off Andy Dalton in the second quarter, he trotted over to Jackson and handed him the ball. Then the Browns, already up 21-0 in front of a crowd that seemed to be at least half in support of Cleveland, scored again.
The Bengals have repeatedly said they could turn things around if they just did their own jobs.
“Everybody just needs to look themselves in the mirror and say do your job,” linebacker Vincent Rey said. “Don’t worry about what the coach calls or about what the offense is doing or what they’re not doing. Just do your job, man. Because if you don’t do it, then who will?
“I just think sometimes it’s pointing the finger at somebody else. If I’m a linebacker, oh it was the defense line’s fault or it was the safety’s fault, or it’s the offense or the special teams. No, it’s no one else’s fault but your own. Take accountability and then we will be more consistent in our play.”
But at no point have the Bengals appeared to take a step toward doing that. If possible, some of the mistakes might be getting worse.
There was a blocked field goal by Randy Bullock and the interception by Dalton that led to a Browns touchdown. An errant snap by Billy Price sailed over Dalton’s head and not only led to a turnover and points, but it was also the play that sent Dalton out of the game with an injury.
And even though the Bengals showed some signs of life under backup quarterback Jeff Driskel, they couldn’t stop making mistakes, with three separate players getting flagged for a false start on a fourth-quarter drive that could’ve made it a one-possession game.
If the Bengals weren’t going to correct these things in an all-important game against the Ravens last week or at home with the season on the line, it’s hard to imagine they’re going to get them corrected now, despite the optimism of some of the players.
“It’s never too late,” cornerback Darqueze Dennard said. “I remember the Giants going 9-7. They got hot at the right time and beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. We can do that. We just have to get it together now. We have the players to do it. We just have to get players healthy and get the players that are playing motivated to get back to the same goal. We just have to figure things out.”
While it’s encouraging that the team showed signs of life in the second half, the time for moral victories has probably passed. To get in the playoffs now would likely require winning out and making a remarkable turnaround despite a lengthy list of injuries that have left the team depleted.
“All we’ve got to do is win the next five games,” said wide receiver Tyler Boyd, summing up the monumental challenge ahead.
“I’m a believer, and I believe in this team,” Boyd said. “I’m going to go out there and continue to give it my all each and every week. It’s hard. It sucks. I’m emotionally hurt and mad about it. But the Browns are a nice football team and we need to make a lot more plays. We started slow. We’ve got to stop starting slow. If we continue to play fast and win early then we will win every game.”