CINCINNATI - Halfway home, the Cincinnati Bengals still don’t have a win. Their perfectly dreadful start is reaching unprecedented lows for a franchise accustomed to them.
And there’s no sign of letting up.
A 35-6 loss in Houston on Sunday left the Bengals with their fourth 0-8 start since 1991, when Mike Brown took control of the team after his father died. There have been only nine other 0-8 starts by the rest of the league combined during that span.
This latest one is breaking new ground.
The Bengals lost to Pittsburgh 38-10, then went to Houston and allowed the Texans to pull away to the most lopsided victory in the expansion team’s history. Coach Marvin Lewis now has presided over the most lopsided back-to-back losses in Bengals history, which goes back to 1968 when Paul Brown coached the team.
The Bengals have taken to falling apart when they fall behind, just like in the bad old days.
“When you get down by a lot of points and you’ve lost a lot of games, sometimes things waver here and there, your effort here and there,” receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said Monday. “Maybe it’s just human nature. I don’t know what it is. You’ve just got to fight against that.”
There aren’t a lot of chances that stand out on the schedule for that first win.
Next is at home against the 3-4 Jaguars, who are coming off a 23-17 loss to Cleveland. If they lose that one, the Bengals will head into their bye week at 0-9, one loss shy of the worst start in franchise history. The 1993 Bengals opened 0-10 under Dave Shula.
No team has gone 0-16, so the Bengals will likely win one along the way. But the final record won’t matter much. This season already has been a reminder that the Bengals can’t shake their past. Since 1991, they’ve managed only one winning record — under Lewis in 2005 — and spent much of the time bringing up the rear in the NFL.
The loss in Houston was so bad that Lewis changed his routine on Monday and addressed the entire team. Brown, the team’s majority owner and de facto general manager, has declined interviews during the losing streak, leaving Lewis to answer for it.
“That’s fine,” Lewis said Monday. “That’s what the position entails. That was the arrangement of this position six years ago (when Lewis was hired). As I told our football team today, the way they play is a reflection of me. I met with them. It’s a reflection of me; it’s not the coaches, it’s me. And that’s why it was my meeting today, because there are things we need to do better. If we flinch, it’s my fault, and I understand that.”
They flinched a lot in Houston, where cornerback Johnathan Joseph provided the signature play for the latest season gone bad.
Kevin Walter, a receiver who left the Bengals as a restricted free agent two years ago, beat Joseph on a crossing pattern from Cincinnati’s 39-yard line. He made a diving catch at about the 30. Joseph slowed, allowing Walter to get back to his feet. Joseph touched him with two hands after he was off the ground, thinking the receiver would be ruled down.
Wrong. Walter ran the rest of the way for one of his two touchdowns.
Lewis agreed the cornerback failed to hustle on the play.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The Bengals aren’t in a position to make meaningful changes. Quarterback Carson Palmer is out indefinitely with an injured elbow, limiting the offense. The defense has slipped the last two games, giving up a lot of long passes. Lewis’ advice is to keep trying.
“When you’ve been embarrassed like we were, the only way to get away from that is to redeem yourself,” he said. “And the only way to redeem yourself is to go do better, and do better right away, and not let it sit and spoil you.”
The last two losses suggest they’re past that point.
CSN: The Super Bowl's golden anniversary will be held in the Golden State. The new stadium, which opens in 2014, in Santa Clara will host Super Bowl L two years later, the NFL announced Tuesday.
2013 SNF Schedule
Check out the 2013 Sunday Night Football schedule.
Latest from ProFootballTalk
Video: Football from NBC Sports
Check out some of the NFL cheerleaders from across the league.