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Lewis remains positive after Bengals’ loss

The Associated Press

CINCINNATI — Two more players are facing suspensions. The rookie quarterback is starting to play like one. And the fans don’t seem to care, judging by all the empty seats.

It’s grim again for the Cincinnati Bengals.

A 13-8 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday was a flashback to the worst times. Paul Brown Stadium was one-third empty, the smallest crowd for a home opener in 30 years. Andy Dalton threw two late interceptions that led to the loss.

Now, at 1-2, the Bengals have to try to rally themselves by insisting it’s too early to worry.

Up next: 3-0 Buffalo, the only unbeaten team left in the AFC.

“There’s really not a big change,” coach Marvin Lewis said Monday. “We’re early in the year. We’ve got a lot of season ahead of us. And you know, at the end of the week when we’re 2-2, there’s going to be probably the other third of the league is going to be in the same situation.

“So I think we have to understand that. That’s where it is early on right now.”

Yes, it’s early. And yes, things could get worse.

Running back Cedric Benson and cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones are appealing suspensions this week for offseason arrests. Jones hasn’t played — he’s still recovering from offseason neck surgery — but Benson is invaluable for an offense starting a rookie quarterback and a rookie receiver in A.J. Green.

Plus, starting receiver Jerome Simpson is under investigation for a marijuana shipment to his home in northern Kentucky. Nobody has been charged, but Simpson’s involvement has already affected the team.

He didn’t practice two days last week. Lewis decided to let him play against the 49ers anyway. Simpson caught only one pass for 6 yards. Lewis said Simpson should have a full week of practice before the home game Sunday against Buffalo.

“He’s got to get back after it and have a good week of preparation,” Lewis said, “and he ought to.”

Right guard Bobbie Williams has one more game left on his four-game punishment for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

That’s just the off-field stuff.

On the field, it’s not going so well, either. The Bengals won the season opener in Cleveland by catching the Browns napping with a quick-snap touchdown play. Dalton looked good during a 24-22 loss in Denver. In the home opener, the Bengals made a lot of rookie mistakes.

“We don’t want it to happen, but it’s going to happen anyway,” said Green, who had a pair of false-start penalties. “We’re all (learning) a new offense, (we have) a rookie quarterback, rookie receivers and first-year receivers playing, so we’re going to have some growing pains. We just have to fight through them.”

Fans are tired of it. The Bengals have only two winning records in the last 20 years, one of the deepest stretches of futility in NFL history. Franchise quarterback Carson Palmer decided to retire rather than play another season for the forlorn franchise.

Only 43,363 fans showed up at 65,500-seat Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, their smallest crowd for a home opener since 1981 at Riverfront Stadium.

“The only way to get people in here is to win games,” defensive tackle Domata Peko said.

Those empty seats aren’t the only reminder of the past.

A corner of the stadium gift shop is dedicated to former Bengals. There’s a TOcho rack — jerseys of former receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco — hanging under a “Buy 1, Get 1 Free” sign. Camouflage Palmer jerseys and Palmer posters are available at reduced prices.

The past, like the present, is a tough sell.

Notes: Lewis said there were no significant injuries during the loss to the 49ers. … The Bengals’ smallest crowds at Paul Brown Stadium came at the end of the 2002 season, when they finished a franchise-worst 2-12 under Dick LeBeau. They drew three crowds under 45,000, with the smallest at 42,092 for a game against Jacksonville on a bitterly cold December afternoon. The stadium opened in 2000.