These Bengals, in a 10-game skid, might be worst yet

CINCINNATI -- With three games left, there's only one question left for the Cincinnati Bengals to answer.

Are they the worst ever?

The Bengals (2-11) have lost 10 consecutive games, matching the club record for one season. The 1993 team under Dave Shula lost its first 10 and has been the measuring stick for failure in the franchise -- until now.

The way this team is playing, the losing could go on. Cincinnati finishes at home against Cleveland (5-8) and San Diego (7-6), then at Baltimore (9-4).

Will they win one more?

"I have no idea," receiver Terrell Owens said. "I've never been in this amount of games losing."

Only one other Bengals team knows what it's like.

The '93 club opened the season with low expectations, coming off a five-win season and quarterback Boomer Esiason's trade to the Jets. Second-year quarterback David Klingler took over and the offense became the worst in club history.

When they fell to 0-9 with a 38-3 loss to Warren Moon's Houston Oilers, the Bengals set a club record for consecutive losses in a season. Shula decided that was good enough for the worst-ever title and put the onus on his players.

"Well, I know that we're the worst team in Bengal history, and we certainly deserve it at this time," Shula said after the game. "This was the worst performance that we've had. They let themselves down, everybody down."

Some players didn't see it that way. Top running back Harold Green had been benched during the game for missing an audible, and wasn't in the mood for Shula's criticism.

"I guess Dave was quoted after the game about this being the worst team in Bengals history," Green said. "That may be touching closer to home to him being the worst coach in Bengals history. What goes around comes around."

Ouch!

There's been no such acrimony on this 10-loss team, although Owens has moved a bit closer to the line after each of the last few defeats. He had only one catch for 22 yards in a 23-7 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday, and intimated that the Steelers did a better job of coaching.

"I can't throw the ball to myself," Owens said. "I can't do anything else. All I can do is just go with the plays that are called and just hope I can get some opportunities.

"You saw what happened in the first half. There were some opportunities there and they (Pittsburgh) game-planned to the point where they knew we were running some routes. ... We saw that, but we still didn't make any adjustments."

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The '93 team won two of its last three games, finishing 3-13 and tying for the worst record in club history. The 2002 team went one worse, finishing 2-14 under Dick LeBeau. These Bengals can match that mark by losing their last three.

No matter the final record, this team will likely be remembered as the most disappointing in Cincinnati history. The Bengals won the AFC North last season, kept the team virtually intact and brought in Owens to improve the passing game for another run at the playoffs. A 23-20 loss in Cleveland on Oct. 3 started a nosedive from a 2-1 start to one for the record books.

This one won't end as neatly as the last one. Shula not only kept his job after that 10-game losing streak, but even got a two-year extension with one game left in the season.

Coach Marvin Lewis is in the final year of his deal, having already turned down an extension because he wants changes in the organization. It could be the first of many significant changes -- Owens and running back Cedric Benson are free agents, and the club has an option for one more year of receiver Chad Ochocinco.

For now, there's a double-digit losing streak that won't go away.

"I thought the tide would turn," Lewis said Monday. "It hasn't turned our way."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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