CINCINNATI -- Two orange end-zone pylons stood on the floor in front of Chad Ochocinco's locker. Carson Palmer walked past stiffly, headed for a session in the weight room.
The flat-screen monitors that provide workout and meeting times around the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room flashed the theme of the week: "Get Your Shovel Out."
The Monday message is one of coach Marvin Lewis' favorite ploys, a reminder that playing football is like moving a pile of dirt. The idea is to keep looking down and keep shoveling.
In this case, the Bengals (2-3) already might have dug themselves too deep.
Two minutes of mind-boggling mistakes and second-guess decisions set up a 24-21 loss Sunday to the young, inexperienced Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one that might have thrown some shovels of dirt on Cincinnati's season.
The defending AFC North champion Bengals already trail the Baltimore Ravens (4-1) by two games in the division and also are behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1). The Bengals are only one game ahead of the lowly Cleveland Browns (1-4), who beat them two weeks ago.
"We're in desperation mode," Cincinnati safety Chris Crocker said.
The implosion Sunday suggested that the Bengals aren't nearly as good as they think, from the top on down. And they're only a few losses away from one of those too-familiar seasons in Cincinnati, the ones that are over only halfway through the schedule.
The schedule coming out of the bye this week: at Atlanta, Miami, Pittsburgh, at Indianapolis, Buffalo, at the New York Jets, New Orleans and at Pittsburgh. And the Bengals don't seem to be getting much better as they go along, making that next stretch of the schedule daunting.
"Yes, it's stunning," Crocker said. "As I look at it right now, we'll have to win out. It's as simple as that."
The latest loss gave no hint that they're capable of it.
The day started with Terrell Owens tweeting in violation of the NFL's restrictions on using social media less than 90 minutes before a game. He should have known better -- Ochocinco was fined $25,000 for tweeting before and during a preseason game.
It ended with cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones being questioned by police after he drove his vehicle over a downtown curb to avoid another vehicle or pedestrian in his way. Jones was released by police without a citation or charges, but witnesses took cell-phone photos and shared them on various social media sites with captions that said -- incorrectly -- that Jones had been arrested.
Jones wasn't in the stadium Monday when it was open to media. Players were free to come in and work out when they chose.
"I've talked with him quite a bit," Lewis said Monday. "He's disappointed that he would be put in that kind of light, and that's the end of the story. It's unfortunate it occurred. There's nothing to it, so people that made a story out of it, shame on them, and that's the way it is."
Between those two moments, the Bengals melted down in a way reminiscent of their futile years before Lewis arrived. Palmer threw two interceptions in the last three minutes, one of them after the coaches decided to try to pass for a first down instead of running to take time off the clock and set up a punt that could have pinned the Bucs with no timeouts left.
Tampa Bay managed to take the game to the closing minutes because Cincinnati repeatedly dropped passes and had penalties that short-circuited drives -- a problem all season that's not getting any better.
"It's very frustrating," Ochocinco said. "We keep saying the same thing after the three losses. I don't know what else to say."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press