CINCINNATI -- Marvin Lewis was right.
Like a sort of seer, the Bengals head coach prophetically proclaimed on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike" early Friday morning that there was just one thing he really needed to see from his entire team. If he saw it on offense, defense and special teams, he'd have a great feeling about where it was heading the rest of the year.
He wanted to see consistency.
"We've got to be consistent on offense, particularly in who we're on in the running game and protections and so forth," Lewis said. "That's got to be important as we move forward. And if you flip it over to the defensive side of the ball, we have to just be consistent tacklers. This game comes down each and every Sunday to who tackles the best defensively."
Although they had a missed tackle or two, the Bengals were fairly consistent on defense Sunday afternoon in their 17-6 loss at Cleveland. Except for a fourth-quarter touchdown that capped a 12-play, nearly seven-minute, 91-yard drive, the unit mostly held its own. For a second straight game, the unit held an offense to fewer than 340 yards, and for the 18th straight game, it prevented a quarterback from hitting the 300-yard passing mark.
For the most part, the defensive consistency was there.
On offense, though, it was lacking. Three weeks after quarterback Andy Dalton posted a 78.8 percent completion rating and two weeks after the Bengals passed for 280 yards for a second consecutive game, they could barely move the ball against the Browns. In passing for a mild 206 yards, Dalton also didn't lead his offense into the end zone for the first time since January's first-round playoff loss at Houston.
Part of the problem Sunday was that Dalton's go-to receiver, fellow third-year star A.J. Green, managed to catch seven balls for just 51 yards. He was targeted 14 times by Dalton. Several of the incompletions were either overthrown, underthrown or completely missed the receiver because of improper communication between he and his quarterback.
For an offense that has shown flashes of brilliance and occasional bouts with mediocrity, the fact that it looked downright pitiful Sunday was a surprise to Green.
"Yeah, it's very shocking because I feel like we have all the pieces to be a great team," Green said. "We are not playing on a consistent basis. Even the games we won we are not playing on a consistent basis. To be a great team, you got to be able to come in week in and week out and play great. We are not doing that right now."
Green was quick to point out that even in last week's win over Green Bay, the Bengals struggled to keep the ball off the ground and out of the Packers' hands.
"We had all those turnovers," he said, referencing the five balls they lost. "All that is going to catch up with you in the long run."
Turnovers may not have been the offense's issue this week, but third-down conversions certainly were. As they operated at a 28 percent (4-for-14) clip, the Bengals' offense had trouble extending drives and giving itself better opportunities to score. On fourth downs, they converted one of the three attempts, but didn't on arguably two of the most critical final-down chances.
According to Lewis, the lack of late-down conversions made it appear Cincinnati's offense was disjointed, out of sync and lacking the type of fluidity that might make it more consistent.
"You get out of sync when you don't convert third downs," he said. "We had third downs that were both manageable and we couldn't convert them. That means at the end of the day that you don't get the opportunity to run it as much as you'd like and keep your offense on the field and your defense off the field."
Cleveland had the advantage in rushing offense (89 yards to 63) and time of possession (31:09 to 28:51). The Bengals ran the ball 20 times, but often that was out of short-yardage need that they had trouble converting.
So, what's the best fix to lacking consistency? Is it playing with a heightened or increased focus?
"No. It's not a focus thing at all," veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "Offensively, we've got to figure it out. You have to make plays in big moments. You have to come up with a play to win the game."
On both sides of the ball, they got those plays in last week's win over the Packers. They definitely will need them this weekend when the Patriots come to town.
"When it comes down to it, we've got to be better," Dalton said. "We want to be consistent, but we just haven't gotten it done for whatever reason. For us, we've got to look at the tape and we can't let this one hurt us next week. We've got to move on."