Bengals about to be yesterday's news

CINCINNATI — They can't get the right number of players on the field. The offense can't get into the end zone. The defense? Another sad story.

Around Cincinnati, it's yesterday once more.

The bad old days have returned for a franchise that thought it had finally escaped them. A 24-7 loss to Tennessee on Sunday left the Bengals in one of those back-to-the-future moments.

Yes, it's that bad.

They're 0-2 for the first time since 2003, when Marvin Lewis arrived as head coach, lost his first three games, then slowly raised the franchise out of its decade-long funk. Fans thought the franchise had turned a corner when the Bengals made the playoffs in 2005 — their only winning record since 1991 — and had an offense that ranked among the league's best.

Three years later, the Bengals are stunningly bad. And no one saw this coming.

"See what coming?" Lewis said Monday. "You can always lose. Unfortunately that's where we are. You don't want to lose two to begin with, but we did. And we just have to fight out of it."

One more loss and they could be down for the count.

The Bengals have scored only one touchdown on offense in their first two games. The next test comes Sunday at the Giants, who provide a small glimmer of hope. Last season, the Giants lost their first two games before going on to win the Super Bowl.

But those are the Giants. These are the Bengals.

"We just need to try to find a way to stay positive," said quarterback Carson Palmer, who is getting knocked around regularly and connecting with his Pro Bowl receivers sparingly. Palmer is the lowest-rated passer in the NFL with a 37.1 rating.

Palmer has three interceptions and no touchdowns. He has completed only 49 percent of his throws. In two games, he has thrown for 228 yards combined. Receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Ocho Cinco have combined for 11 catches.

Fans are already writing them off. Attendance on Sunday was 64,540, the Bengals' smallest home crowd since the first game of the 2003 season. Fans in the upper deck taped up a sign that played off Lewis' "NOW" theme for the season.

"Believe in NOW?" the banner read. "Show us HOW."