Bengals looking for solution to 2-5 start

CINCINNATI --- Reality show star Terrell Owens wishes he could rewind the Bengals' season back to the beginning.

"If I were granted three wishes, I'd wish that we could start this over," he said.

Sorry. No second takes in the NFL.

The Bengals (2-5) have hit bottom before the season's midpoint. A 22-14 loss to Miami on Sunday dropped the defending AFC North champions into a last-place tie with Cleveland, a team that beat them head-to-head last month.

"We're in a slump, and we need to get ourselves out of it," cornerback Leon Hall said.

This slump goes back for more than seven games. In a lot of ways, the Bengals are revisiting the bad old days.

They haven't won a playoff game since 1990, the last year that team founder Paul Brown was around. Since then, they've managed only two winning records and two playoff losses.

During that 20-year run, they've been masters of the fast fold. They've started 2-5 or worse in four of coach Marvin Lewis' eight seasons, continuing a trend that's held through five different coaching regimes. It's the 14th time in those 20 years that they've opened with a record of 2-5 or worse.

The Bengals have dropped four in a row to drop out of contention. It's their eighth 0-for-October in the past 20 years.

Some slump.

"I don't know if there's a worse feeling than losing a bunch of games in a row," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "This is definitely a low for this group and a low for myself, but in no way are we packing it in."

How did this happen?

The Bengals thought they were in good shape to pull off first-time feat for the franchise, which has never won back-to-back division championships. They kept the team virtually intact, and brought in Owens and drafted receiver Jordan Shipley and tight end Jermaine Gresham to improve a passing game that was the weak link.

Then, everything fell apart.

The running game that was their foundation last season has crumbled. Palmer has been out of sync with his new receivers. Owens and Chad Ochocinco -- the self-described dynamic duo -- haven't even been close to superheroes. And the defense that held it all together last season has substantially regressed.

"Some of the things that have been good to us in the past and been our staples aren't there for us," Palmer said. "That's not an excuse, that's the NFL. You can't rely on something that was good last week or last year."

The coaching staff has come under question as the season slips away. The Bengals have been self-destructive and slow to react and adapt. Against the Dolphins, the offense scored a touchdown on its opening drive, then got stuck in neutral when Miami changed its coverages to compensate for what happened that series.

"They moved the secondary around a lot and disguised some blitzes," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "It looked like they were able to make adjustments and we weren't."

Palmer concurred that the Dolphins did a better job of adapting.

"They did a good job adjusting after we had a couple fast drives at the beginning of the game," said Palmer, who was 17 of 38 for 156 yards and threw a clinching interception in the closing minutes. "They did a good job of not showing us a lot of the same thing throughout the rest of the game."

At the center of the mess is Lewis, who is in the final year of his contract. Although his job is likely safe for now -- owner Mike Brown has fired only one coach with time left on a contract -- it's looking unlikely that he'll be back after this season.

Lewis turned down an offer to extend his contract last season, wanting to wait and see how this one turns out.

After seven games, he's got his answer.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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