CINCINNATI (AP) — Asked how surprising it was to see his team get run over so completely, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis answered with a question.
"You want the press conference answer or the honest answer?" Lewis said. Told that honesty was preferred, Lewis responded, "Can't give that one."
His hesitance said it all. A 28-14 loss in Dallas that was essentially over early in the third quarter left the Bengals (2-3) in a very uncomfortable spot. They played their worst game in years, and now are off to their worst start since 2010, when they won four games. The Bengals drafted Andy Dalton and A.j. Green in 2011 and haven't had a losing season since.
Up next, though, is a trip to New England (4-1) for Tom Brady's home opener. The Bengals haven't won in New England since 1986, losing six straight there, so it seems foreboding.
"If I watched the way we played yesterday, I'd say the same thing," defensive end Carlos Dunlap said.
The Bengals spent Monday re-watching the game at Dallas, with no more insight as to why so much went so wrong. The Cowboys (4-1) scored touchdowns on their first three possessions and led 28-0 early in the third quarter before easing up.
"There was not a lot to be happy about," Lewis said.
The biggest issues were on defense. The Bengals knew that Dallas would run right at them, trying to keep rookie quarterback Dak Prescott out of stressful situations. The Cowboys did whatever they wanted to do, with Ezekiel Elliott running for 134 yards on only 15 carries — his 60-yard touchdown run put the game away early in the third quarter.
Prescott threw for a touchdown and ran for another. The Cowboys piled up 180 yards on the ground, the most allowed by a Bengals defense since Seattle ran for 200 in the fifth game last season.
Last season, the Bengals allowed only seven opponents to rush for 100 yards in 17 games; they've already done it three times in five games.
Cincinnati figured the defense would be back in form with linebacker Vontaze Burfict back from his three-game NFL suspension, but everything was out of sorts in Dallas.
"You can't have games like that," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said, taking a break from watching video of the Patriots' 33-13 win in Cleveland on Sunday.
"It's just uncharacteristic, and quite honestly I was surprised how the game came out. I give Dallas credit. They beat us up front."
The Bengals are at a crossroads. The defending AFC North champions already trail Pittsburgh (4-1) by two games and Baltimore (3-2) by one. The previous time they started 2-4, the Bengals ended up at 4-12.
"I'm motivated from yesterday," Dunlap said. "We have a challenge now to get back to playing our way."
Notes: Running back Jeremy Hill aggravated a sore left shoulder on Sunday and was limited to four carries for 12 yards. Hill said on Monday that the injury isn't serious and he expects to be available to play in New England. ... Burfict was on the field for 44 of the defense's 57 plays. Guenther said it's part of the progression of getting the linebacker back to full form after missing the first three games. In his first game back against the Dolphins, Burfict was on the field for 34 of the 45 plays.