CINCINNATI -- Now what?
The Cincinnati Bengals tried everything to get ready for a game they had to win. The coach scorched them for being selfish, the schedule gave them an extra week to prepare, an inspirational speaker reminded them about pulling together.
What did they get for all the bye-week work? A 27-20 loss at Kansas City that left them in their worst rut under coach Marvin Lewis, who is starting to catch some heat in a city that once treated him like a hero.
Not that he's feeling it.
"I guess I'll disappoint the fans if they think there's heat," Lewis said Monday. "My only heat is internal and that's what drives me. That's the good thing, I guess, about this position. I'm not going to get concerned."
That was his theme for the day. Concern? Don't even use the word.
It's a familiar coaching ploy: distract players from their desperate plight by emphasizing the few positives. Lewis has dusted it off during the most troubled time of his five-season tenure.
The Bengals (1-4) have lost four in a row for the first time since Lewis arrived. They also started 1-4 in each of his first two seasons, when the slow starts were overlooked because Lewis was just starting to build.
This season is different.
Cincinnati was expected to contend in the AFC North with an offense led by Pro Bowl MVP Carson Palmer and Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson. Instead, the Bengals have crumbled into a last-place team that often appears in disarray.
Palmer got frustrated with Johnson again Sunday after he pulled up on a pass that was intercepted. The defense got crushed in the first half by an offense that had been struggling. And the offense failed to convert any of its first 10 third-down chances.
The offensive line is beat up, the defense is getting no better, and the head coach is looking on the bright side.
"What I told our football team in there just now was that I thought for the first time, this football team played like a football team in the second half of the game," Lewis said after the game Sunday. "Although we didn't win the game today, I thought we made progress and showed some signs of a football team, not just a bunch of individual guys."
The remark didn't go over well in a city that heard much the same from Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet and Dick LeBeau during their failed stints as coach. A day later, Lewis repeated the upbeat message to his discouraged players.
"Our margin for error is tight," Lewis said. "That's the result of being 1-4. That's what we need to realize. Every play right now, we're not getting the benefit of the doubt. Balls are not really bouncing our way. That's what we need to realize and keep doing things the right way. Building upon the positive things and making corrections when it's not as positive and correct."
One change: no inspiring speeches this week.
Last week, Lewis let retired Navy Capt. D. Michael Abrashoff talk to his players for about an hour. Abrashoff wrote a book about leadership titled, "It's Your Ship." Lewis hoped the talk would help set his team right.
"The message was well received," Lewis said. "He did a great job, and I think everyone got out of it what they needed to get out of it. But you don't win football games with words. You don't lose football games with words."
The four losses speak for themselves.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press