Since their comeback against the Cleveland Browns fell short in early October, the season has continued to go downhill for the Cincinnati Bengals. It appears their frustration is rising.
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Having voiced his displeasure with the organization, receiver Terrell Owens will try to help the Bengals avoid setting a new franchise-worst losing streak Sunday, when the Browns seek to sweep their in-state rivals for the first time in eight years.
After winning two of its first three games this season, Cincinnati fell behind 23-10 in the third quarter at Cleveland on Oct. 3. The Bengals scored 10 points over the next 5 1/2 minutes but couldn’t get any closer in a 23-20 defeat.
Cincinnati has dropped nine more games since then, matching an 0-10 start in 1993 for the longest single-season losing streak in its history.
"Ten straight. That’s it, that’s where this team is right now, 10 straight," linebacker Brandon Johnson said. "We’ve got a lot of problems. We need a lot of answers."
When asked by teammate Chad Ochocinco on Tuesday night’s "The T.Ocho Show" why the team is 2-11, Owens directed criticism toward the entire organization.
"I think there’s underachieving from the top down," Owens said. "You start with the owner, you start with the coaches. And obviously we as players, we are a product of what the coaches are coaching us throughout the course of the week.
"Of course, we have to go out there and play the game. But in order for us to do what we’re allowed to do at the best of our abilities, the coaches have to put the players in the best position."
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis defended his receiver, who had 10 receptions for a season-high 222 yards in the October loss to Cleveland. Owens hasn’t had more than six catches or 64 yards in his last five games, but he needs only 17 yards to become the third NFL player to reach 1,000 in 10 different seasons.
"We all – like he said – need to do better, and we all have a hand in winning football games," Lewis said. "We haven’t done well enough. None of us."
Following six consecutive losses by eight points or fewer, three of Cincinnati’s last four defeats have been by at least 16 points. The Bengals totaled 190 yards of offense – including a season-low 34 on the ground – in last week’s 23-7 defeat at Pittsburgh.
Cincinnati, which has averaged 58.7 rushing yards over the last three weeks, had 67 in the loss to Cleveland. Carson Palmer passed for 371 yards and two touchdowns in that game, but hasn’t exceeded 249 in his last four.
"Right now, it’s just frustration," said Palmer, who has thrown for a total of 225 yards in his last two home games against the Browns. "I don’t know if anybody has the words right now to describe what we’re feeling as a team."
While Cincinnati’s ground game is at a virtual standstill, Cleveland’s is thriving behind Peyton Hillis, who has 994 yards and nine TDs in the last 11 games. He ran for 102 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati, and finished with 108 yards last week versus Buffalo.
Hillis, however, couldn’t find the end zone in a 13-6 loss to the Bills – the second of three straight road games for Cleveland. Jake Delhomme had a terrible performance at quarterback, throwing for 86 yards as the Browns offense totaled a season-worst 187.
Delhomme might find himself on the bench this week. Colt McCoy, who had taken over the starting job but has been sidelined since spraining his ankle Nov. 21 in Jacksonville, took snaps with Cleveland’s first-team offense during practice this week.
Coach Eric Mangini said he wants to see if his rookie’s sprained ankle is fully healed before deciding on this week’s starter.
"I don’t expect there to be much limitation, but I want to see it and go from there," Mangini said."
McCoy led the Browns to their most impressive stretch of 2010, consecutive midseason wins over New Orleans and New England. If he starts Sunday, he’ll try to lead the Browns to only their second win in seven games at Paul Brown Stadium. Cleveland lost 16-7 at Cincinnati last season.
The Bengals have won nine of 12 overall against the Browns.