CINCINNATI — Weary and bleary, coach Marvin Lewis tried to sum up his team’s horrific start. What was supposed to be a special season has quickly soured. Words are as elusive as a good night’s sleep or a simple touchdown.
“Um, the uh, you know, hmmm. Not a, you know, not a spot where we thought we’d be, but we are,” a bleary-eyed Lewis said Friday afternoon.
They’re sleepless in Cincinnati after two historically bad games to open their 50th season. Changes are in the works already, although it could be too late to make enough of a difference. The Bengals have to win back fans and forestall an implosion that would reverberate through the organization.
“We have to start winning, and start winning now,” quarterback Andy Dalton said.
Lewis is in the final year on his contract, making him vulnerable. There have been more than 10,000 empty seats for each of the first two home games. And the offense — the focus of offseason moves — has been historically bad, leading to change already.
The Bengals fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese on Friday, a few hours after they again failed to get into the end zone during a 13-9 loss to the Houston Texans .
Quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor was promoted to coordinator, although there’s not much time or room to put an imprint on the offense.
“Things happened very fast,” said Lazor, who was the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator in 2014-15.
And the trend is bad.
The Bengals’ run of five straight playoff appearances — and five straight first-round losses — ended last season with a 6-9-1 finish. Three of their top playmakers — A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard — were hurt for much of the season, contributing to a significant slide in the offense.
All three are back, and receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon were drafted to help fix the issues on offense.
Instead, they’ve made little positive impact. The offense has been an unmitigated mess, leading to Zampese’s firing. Cincinnati has failed to score a touchdown in 25 possessions, the first NFL team since the 1939 Eagles to open with a pair of home games and fail to get into the end zone.
The previous team to open with two home games and so few points was the 1949 Packers.
This was supposed to be one of the franchise’s most notable years. The Bengals are celebrating their 50th season by bring back their greatest players for halftime honors at games. The big year got off on a bad foot when linebacker Vontaze Burfict was suspended by the NFL for three games and cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones for one.
With two home games to open the season, they were set up for a fast start. Instead, they’ve had some of their worst moments and smallest crowds at Paul Brown Stadium. They drew 55,254 for the opener — 10,000 below capacity — had had only 52,942 on Thursday night, their smallest crowd since 2011.
The Bengals decided to go with a young, inexperienced offensive line, and the decision has backfired. Dalton was sacked five times during a 20-0 loss to the Ravens, and he turned the ball over five times. He was under pressure regularly again on Thursday night and missed open receivers, a sign the constant pressure is wearing on him.
Ross, who set the 40-yard dash record at the NFL combine, got to carry the ball for the first time on Thursday night and fumbled. He was in for only four more plays.
And when the Bengals thought they’d actually scored a touchdown, it was nullified by a penalty. Eifert stepped out of bounds before catching Dalton’s pass in the end zone, and Cincinnati had to settle for yet another field goal.
With games at Green Bay and Cleveland the next two weeks, they’re staring at a bleak season already.
“You never want to start a season this way,” Dalton said.