Football

Bengals locker room not a fun place to be

CINCINNATI — The winless locker room is the home of averted eyes.

"I didn't think we'd be 0-4 going to Dallas, I can tell you that," said T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "But I would have bet the house on this game."

The Bengals wide receiver was speaking to the media surrounding his locker. He was wearing sunglasses.

His teammates might as well have been. Their eyes darted. They stared at the floor. They looked to the shower. They fixed on everything but the final score: Cleveland 20, Cincinnati 12.

"It's frustrating because you know you're close," said Leon Hall, the second-year defensive back. "We've got to figure out what's going wrong and fix it."

The winless locker room is the home of bad luck.

Carson Palmer did not play Sunday. The Bengals quarterback has an inflamed elbow from a hit in the New York Giants game last Sunday. Palmer said all week that despite the injury, he would play. Then he didn't.

"It was a precautionary thing not letting him go, which went against his wishes," said Marvin Lewis, the head coach. "What we did for him today was the best thing for him long-term."

The winless locker room is the home of the backup who tries too hard.

"I wanted to come in and provide a spark, get the offense going," said Ryan Fitzpatrick, the backup pressed into his first Cincinnati start, who threw for just 156 yards with three interceptions. His quarterback rating was 44.5. "There's some plays I made, but there's some plays I'd like to have back."

The winless locker room is the home for explaining the unexplainable. The Bengals used all three of their second-half timeouts by the 13:15 mark of the fourth quarter. Trying to rally from a five-point deficit, and then an eight-point deficit, those timeouts would have come in handy.

"It's not the way we wanted to do it," Lewis said. "But it happened."

The winless locker room is devoid of leaders. Wise old soul Willie Anderson was cut in the pre-season. Veteran running back Rudi Johnson was cut, as well. With Palmer on the shelf, and Chad Johnson wrapped up in Chad Ocho Cinco, the current Bengals are a leaderless group, floating toward the oblivion.

"You've got to look at the positive," said Houshmandzadeh. "Always looking at the negative will rub you raw."

The winless locker room is home of the rumor. The mysterious late pre-game pull of Palmer from starting status, coupled with his designation as the emergency or No. 3 quarterback, only fueled the fires. Perhaps Palmer's elbow is worse than he is letting on. Might surgery be in order? Someone mentioned Tommy John.

"I hope not," said Palmer when asked if the injury might be long-term. "Like I said, I hope to play against Dallas."

"He practiced, but he had setbacks," said Houshmandzadeh. "It doesn't matter. If you don't have the guys around you, you're nothing. We need everybody playing well, and right now that's not happening."

The winless locker room empties early. No one lingers. Everyone is moving. To the showers. To the training room. To the exit. Players dress quickly. Everyone has somewhere else they would rather be.

"Everybody, myself included," said Houshmandzadeh, "you lose a bit of confidence when you're 0-4."

The winless locker room is where even the head coach is tired of the sound of his own voice.

"Yes (as a coach), every time you lose you're tired of saying what I say," Lewis said. "I know you're tired of listening to it, too. We've just got to get it fixed."

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