The Bungles are back

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:49 AM ET

CINCINNATI -- There were seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and Paul Brown Stadium had an all too familiar look.

The stands were more than half empty and those Cincinnati Bengals fans still around for yesterday's reality check saw a scoreboard blinking a tale as gloomy as the rainy day.

In other words, it may as well have been 1995 again.

Early-season appearances aside, the Bungles were back -- emphatically so at times -- in a 27-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers before a sellout crowd of 66,104.

The Bengals (5-2) still have the lead in the AFC North, but the Steelers (4-2) are closing in.

Under the regimented coaching of Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati likely is a much better team than the one that hasn't been to the playoffs in 15 years.

Until they can defeat a team with a winning record -- which they have yet to do this season -- the Bengals still will be seen as a work in progress.

"When you play a championship team, you can't give them anything," Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said.

"It is my responsibility to not turn over the ball and it's my responsibility to put points on the board.

"I flat out didn't play well enough to win. This game meant a lot to us.

"It meant a lot to the city and the fans. We let ourselves -- and everybody around us -- down."

While Palmer was being a little hard on himself, he touched on the two biggest themes in a decision not as clear-cut as the final score. On the game's first two drives, Palmer confidently marched the ball inside the Steelers 12-yard line, yet the Bengals had just three points to show for it.

A circus catch for a touchdown by Chad Johnson was overturned by instant replay. Then, wide-open in the end zone, rookie Chris Henry dropped an easy catch only to watch Shayne Graham duck-hook a 30-yard field-goal attempt.

On the first drives of the third quarter, the normally reliable Palmer was picked off, resulting in 10 Steelers points.

With a 17-6 lead and momentum on their side, the Steelers took control of the ball, clock and ultimately the game.

"They beat us and people will say they are better than us but I just don't see that," Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said.

"We should have been up 14-7 at the half and then it would have been a different game."

Indeed it might have been, but once the Steelers were allowed to dictate the play, the Bengals were powerless to stop the darting speed of running back Willie Parker (131 yards) and the pounding of Jerome (The Bus) Bettis (56 yards).

The clock-eating drives gave the defence enough of a rest to attack Palmer and bum out long-suffering Bengals fans who were ready to celebrate the changing of the guard.

"We're not going to beat ourselves up over this," Houshmandzadeh said. "It's not college football, we can still win the division. We can control the way we want our season to go."


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