CINCINNATI (AP) - Terrell Owens calls his team terrible. And nobody on the Cincinnati Bengals would disagree with the sentiment.
A classic collapse against Buffalo left the defending AFC North champions on the brink of a full-scale meltdown heading into the final six weeks of the season. The Bengals are 2-8 and suddenly in the hunt for the first overall pick in next year's draft.
They're playing so poorly that Owens wouldn't be surprised if their seven-game losing streak keeps on going.
"We may go 2-14 at the rate we're playing," Owens said. "We're not good, period."
Any thoughts of a late-season surge were dashed at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday. The Bengals played their best half of the season on offense, surging ahead 31-14 at halftime. Then, they unraveled in every way, losing 49-31 to a team that had only one win coming in.
"Aw, it's tough," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "But it's been tough. This is just something I've never been through."
His franchise has been through it a lot. The Bengals clinched their 18th non-winning record in the last 20 years, one of the worst stretches of futility in league history. They've finished with four wins or fewer in eight of those seasons.
This one could easily fit into that bad billing. The Bengals have a grueling schedule left _ the Jets are next up on Thanksgiving, followed by New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, San Diego and Baltimore. The defensive backfield was virtually wiped out by injuries during the loss to the Bills. It'll be a challenge to stay competitive.
"We've got to find a way," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "It's not going to be easy."
The attention will soon drift to next year, starting with the coach's future. Marvin Lewis is in the final year on his contract. Ownership offered an extension last season, while the Bengals were on their way to winning the division title. Lewis preferred to wait and see what ownership did.
For years, Lewis has wanted a covered practice field _ they had to practice at an indoor soccer facility to prepare for their playoff loss to the Jets last season _ and some other changes. If he was hoping that another good season would strengthen his bargaining position, he's out of luck.
"I haven't got done what I came here to do and I've failed them," Lewis said Monday, when asked about his contract status. "But we're still doing it and we're going to keep on doing it and just keep working at it. So, this has not been the season we all wanted, but it is where we are right now. My guys coach very hard, and that's not going to change."
So, the coaching countdown begins with six games left.
Lewis' more immediate concern is trying to cobble together a defensive backfield that can keep the Bengals competitive. Safety Chris Crocker tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and is out for the season. Safety Roy Williams suffered a concussion. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph went out with an ankle injury in the first half.
By the end of the game, the Bengals were considering using receivers at cornerback in an emergency.
"I know at some point in the game they were talking about (Jordan) Shipley going in and playing corner, Quan (Cosby) maybe," Palmer said. "We got down to four guys."
The Jets (8-2) beat the Bengals twice last season _ 37-0 at the Meadowlands to end the regular season, then 24-14 in the playoffs at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals don't have much time to mend their defense and get over the emotional meltdown.
"I hope we don't take the disappointment into the short week, into the game against the Jets," Owens said. "If not, they may put 49-plus on us. They have a great defense. Their offense is explosive. And if we come with the performance that we played with (against Buffalo), it's over. It's lights out.
"At this point, we're playing for pride. And we're going to see what everybody's made of, me included."