Can Lewis Fix the Bengals' Defense?

Marvin Lewis (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Cincinnati is headed for another test on Monday night when the New England Patriots come to town. For Marvin Lewis it may be a matter of how to patch his defense back together after giving up 51 points to the Browns two weeks ago and another 24 last week to Seattle. New England is loaded on offense, so Lewis' defense has a tall task ahead of them.

Perhaps a sign of how the Marvin Lewis Bengals have fallen -- or, at best, stagnated -- is the Monday night game at home against New England.

With the Patriots looking invincible and the Bengals defense sometimes invisible, the Bengals could be in line for, gasp, a moral victory. Maybe if the Bengals can stay within 10 points of the red-hot Patriots they won't feel too bad about themselves heading into their bye at a possible 1-3.

As it is, the Bengals are 1-2, coming off back-to-back losses at Cleveland and Seattle. The Patriots are 3-0 and come in with a rare double, ranked first in both total offensive yards gained and defensive yards allowed. New England is averaging 38 points a game, second in the NFL. The Bengals are 31st in the NFL in allowing 31.7 points a game.

"The Patriots are a team that gets talked about a lot, and that's the way it should be," Bengals right tackle Willie Anderson said after the 24-21 loss at Seattle. "They've been a great team for so long, and we're still in the phase of trying to figure out what kind of team we're going to be and what kind of games we can win at the end.

"It's a big challenge for us, against guys who are pros, who are a class act, and who know how to win."

The Bengals' only victory came in the Monday night opener three weeks ago, a 27-20 decision over AFC North rival Baltimore.

"I'm confident," said Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who leads the NFL with 29 receptions. "I'm not going to hang my head. But we've lost two straight games we should have won. Lost to teams I feel we're better than. And now we've got New England. It's going to be tough, so we've got to be tough."

The Bengals are still playing short-handed on special teams because of a rash of injuries at linebacker and safety. Special teams made three poor plays at Seattle last week. The Bengals can't afford one against a team as strong in all areas as New England.

The Bengals made a move designed to bolster their special teams Wednesday when they waived fourth-year cornerback Keiwan Ratliff and signed cornerback Blue Adams to a two-year contract. Adams, who was waived Sept. 2 by the Bengals after an injury-plagued offseason, is healthy now. He had 19 special teams tackles last year at Tampa Bay.

Lewis has preached unity this past week. He talked about the need for his players not to try too hard or try to do too much. "Do your job" is his motto.

"This is a week when we have to unite, to come together as a team," Lewis said. "(Seattle) was a difficult game to lose at the end. In all three phases -- offense, defense, special teams -- we need to execute and play better. That's the challenge we face."

SERIES HISTORY: 21st meeting. Patriots lead 12-8, but the Bengals lead 6-5 as the home team. The Patriots won the most recent meeting, 38-13 last season at Paul Brown Stadium. In 1988, a Super Bowl-bound Bengals team opened the season with a 6-0 start before suffering its first loss, 27-21 at New England. The series began at baseball's storied Fenway Park in Boston. In an American Football League game in 1968, the Patriots defeated the expansion Bengals, 33-14.

NOTES, QUOTES
--The Bengals were minus-2 in turnover differential Sunday at Seattle, an indicator of a loss. Under Marvin Lewis, the Bengals are now 4-22 with a minus differential. They are 25-3 with a plus.

--Left tackle Levi Jones played extensively at Seattle but expects to be a backup for the Patriots game.

Jones said he'd rather have not signed with the Bengals than play a limited role. The embattled offensive tackle described that entrance as an "emergency situation" that covered for injured guard Stacy Andrews. Andrews left the game because of a slight shoulder injury.

When asked if he thinks the only way he'll play is if someone else is hurt, Jones responded, "Pretty much, yeah."

Jones, the 10th overall pick in the 2002 draft, signed a six-year, $40 million-plus contract extension in July 2006.

"I was obviously signed here to do a job, and I'm, you know what I'm saying, what I'm doing now is not what I was signed to be here for," he said. "I would rather have not signed than to do this, you know what I'm saying. So obviously I'm disappointed that that's not the case."

Jones did not play against Baltimore. He is listed as a substitution in the Cleveland and Seattle games. Lewis said in his Tuesday press conference that he was pleased with Jones' play at Seattle.

--Lewis was asked Sunday why the Bengals attempted a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. "By going for two, it gives us an opportunity late in the game to put some different things on the table," Lewis said.

Tuesday he answered the question again. "I probably should have kicked the extra point, but I went for two. We'll leave it at that."

--The Bengals are scheduled to wear orange jerseys and white pants in the New England game. The Bengals are unbeaten in orange jerseys, which were not used prior to 2004. Since 2004, when the team's uniforms were redesigned, a number of different color options have been available. The orange jerseys are designated a "specialty" uniform by the NFL and can be worn only twice per season. Cincinnati is 3-0 with orange jerseys and white pants and 3-0 with orange jerseys and black pants. The record is pretty. The uniform is ugly.

--On consecutive Oct. 1s, the Bengals will play host to the Patriots. In 2006, the Bengals lost 38-13. The 25-point margin of defeat stands as the biggest in the now 68-game tenure of Lewis as Bengals head coach. But the thorough defeat that afternoon was only the beginning of a bad streak for the Bengals.

With the 24-21 loss Sunday at Seattle, the Bengals have lost 10 of 16 games. The NFL regular season is 16 games. So the Bengals are a 6-10 team in the schedule that spans two seasons. Since winning at home Dec. 10 against Oakland, 27-10, the Bengals have lost five of six.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: "Regardless of who you are. From our very best player to our 53rd player. That's important to understand, that we need to stay within ourselves and what our responsibilities are and what's going to get done that particular play, and make sure we stay at that, and let things work. Let the play work -- offense, defense, special teams. Let it work and stay within your role. I think that's important." -- Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, on the state of his team after their 1-2 start.

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