Bengals don’t see winless season

Published 12:21 am Sunday, November 2, 2008

Drop all the talk about 0-16. From receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s perspective, there’s no chance it will happen.

Not with his winless Cincinnati Bengals, anyway.

Halfway through the season, the Bengals (0-8) are at the bottom of the NFL and their fans are starting to wonder if there’s even a smidgen of opportunity for a win during a tough second-half stretch of the schedule.

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‘‘Never crossed my mind,’’ Houshmandzadeh said, dismissively. ‘‘We’re not going to lose every game. It’s just not going to happen. I don’t mean to sound like this or that, but that’s just not going to happen. Every game you’ve played? Nah.’’

No team has ever gone 0-16, finding someone, somewhere along the way to knock off. The Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4) can’t afford to let it be them on Sunday.

While the Bengals have played far below even their lowest expectations, the Jaguars have been losing close games and fading away. They’re four games behind undefeated Tennessee in the AFC South, and approach the midpoint of their season feeling like underachievers.

‘‘Guys are definitely upset and disappointed,’’ quarterback David Garrard said. ‘‘We definitely had bigger hopes for ourselves, other than where we are right now.’’

Well, at least they’re not 0-8.

‘‘No, we’re not,’’ Garrard said, ‘‘but sometimes it feels that way.’’

Their challenge on Sunday is to not let a down-and-out team get up and running.

The Jaguars are the only team in the league that’s had every game decided by seven points or less. The last one, a 23-17 loss to Cleveland in Jacksonville, took a lot out of them. Garrard had another impressive game, accounting for 342 of the Jaguars’ 380 total yards. All it proved was that a one-man show closes down pretty fast.

Garrard hasn’t thrown an interception in the last four games, a streak of 150 passes. He has thrown at least 30 passes in each of the last four games. He led the Jaguars with 59 yards on scrambles against Cleveland.

Despite the quarterback’s consistent play, the Jaguars are 2-2 in that stretch. They have to get their running game going — and fast — if they want to keep thinking about the playoffs.

‘‘Hopefully, we have pressed the reset button and try to clear all that out,’’ said running back Fred Taylor, who had 24 yards on eight carries against Cleveland. ‘‘We know what it is.’’

The Jaguars have won their last four games against the Bengals and nine of their last 10. If the trend continues, the Bengals would fall to 0-9 overall for only the second time in franchise history; the 1993 Bengals opened 0-10. They’re coming off their most lopsided back-to-back losses in franchise history — 38-10 to Pittsburgh and 35-6 at Houston.

A loss on Sunday would drop them to 0-9 for only the second time in franchise history; the 1993 Bengals opened 0-10. They’re coming off their most lopsided back-to-back losses in franchise history: 38-10 to Pittsburgh and 35-6 at Houston.

On the surface, it seems they’ve checked out on coach Marvin Lewis.

‘‘Does it look like this locker room is lost?’’ receiver Chad Ocho Cinco said. ‘‘Everybody is upbeat. If anyone was going to lose a team, the first person that would have been lost in here is me. Seriously. I’d be the first one. I’d be like, ’This is blah blah blah.’ Uh-uh. I’ve been upbeat. I’ve been positive.’’

When the Bengals slipped to 7-9 last season, players openly groused about the play calling and Ocho Cinco berated quarterback Carson Palmer on the field. The losing this year is coming with more equanimity.

‘‘We haven’t won a game yet, but the locker room is actually in high spirits in terms of the worth ethic and being excited to come to work every day,’’ said Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will start his fourth straight game while Palmer recovers from an elbow injury. ‘‘That hasn’t died off at all.

‘‘I would say that it was certainly more volatile last year in the locker room at this point of the year than it is now.’’

That’s the danger for the Jaguars, who can’t afford to become this year’s version of the Baltimore Ravens. Last year, the Dolphins started 0-13 before running into the self-destructive Ravens and pulling off a 22-16 win in overtime.

‘‘A team without a win, I guess they have nothing to lose,’’ Taylor said. ‘‘You can try new stuff. You can try things that are somewhat unorthodox, considering that it might not be on film — surprise attacks, sneak attacks, whatever you want to call it. You can do anything.

‘‘Another part of that is if they beat you, that’s a terrible feeling.’’

One they don’t want to get to know.