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The Bengals (1-4) have lost four straight, including a disappointing 27-20 loss at Kansas City last weekend coming off their bye week. Cincinnati is mired in last place in the AFC North, a division they won in 2005 before missing the playoffs last year.
It’s also the first four-game skid for Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who claims he is not feeling any pressure for the poor start. Cincinnati is on its longest slide since a six-game losing streak from Nov. 10-Dec. 15, 2002, the season before Lewis was hired.
“I guess I’ll disappoint the fans if they think there’s heat,” Lewis said. “My only heat is internal and that’s what drives me. That’s the good thing, I guess, about this position. I’m not going to get concerned.
“Our margin for error is tight. That’s the result of being 1-4. That’s what we need to realize. Every play right now, we’re not getting the benefit of the doubt. Balls are not really bouncing our way. That’s what we need to realize and keep doing things the right way. Building upon the positive things and making corrections when it’s not as positive and correct.”
One of the problems Cincinnati has faced is a slew of injuries, including to star running back Rudi Johnson (hamstring). He sat out a 34-13 loss to New England on Oct. 1, and had only four carries against the Chiefs. Johnson has 185 rushing yards on 62 carries and just one touchdown catch.
Right tackle Willie Anderson missed last week’s loss with foot and knee injuries. The offensive line has used four different combinations in Cincinnati’s first five games.
The lack of a productive running game has put pressure on quarterback Carson Palmer and receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who have combined for 1,083 yards and 10 of Cincinnati’s 13 offensive touchdowns. Houshmandzadeh has seven of those scores, two shy of his career-best set in 14 games last season.
New York (1-5) enters on a three-game losing streak, and quarterback Chad Pennington has taken the brunt of the blame. Pennington has thrown all six of his interceptions this season during the skid, including one in a 16-9 loss to Philadelphia last week - the first time the Jets failed to reach the end zone this year.
With fans and media clamoring for backup Kellen Clemens to be inserted, coach Eric Mangini is sticking with Pennington.
“There’s a lot of different areas that need to get better: interceptions, tackling, run fits, all those things, coaching, strategy,” Mangini said. “All those things need to improve and we’re all in this together. It’s not a one-person issue.”
Pennington completed a season-low 11 of 21 passes for 128 yards in last week’s loss as the Jets’ offense stalled despite a season-high 130 yards rushing from Thomas Jones. Tight end Chris Baker also criticized New York’s play-calling, but receiver Jerricho Cotchery backed Pennington.
“He’s our leader,” Cotchery said. “He’s the leader of this team, not only on offense. One guy isn’t going to create a spark because each individual has to create that spark within himself to help this team out. I think that’s kind of a sensitive topic because everyone loves Chad in this building.”
Jones’ effort was a bright spot. Acquired from Chicago in the offseason, he is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry on the road.
The Jets’ defense also ranks among the bottom five teams in the NFL with six sacks and two forced fumbles.
New York has won five straight against Cincinnati, including a 31-24 victory on Sept. 12, 2004 in the last meeting.
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