CINCINNATI -- Following an embarrassing 19-14 loss to the Steelers in which his team collapsed in the second half amid a flood of holding penalties and mental mistakes, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis gave his team a stern lecture. He didn't mince words.
"I'm angry," Lewis said. "This is the angriest I've been. We cannot accept mediocrity. We are never going to go where we need to go if we accept this -- if we accept playing close, accept being in the lead in the first half and not finishing the game."
The Bengals were charitable to a fault. They had three holding penalties in the third quarter, two by wide receiver Chad Johnson. Quarterback Carson Palmer gave the Steelers nine points by throwing an interception that Steelers linebacker James Farrior returned for a touchdown and taking a safety with a grounding penalty in the end zone. From personal fouls to other mental blunders, the Bengals blew a chance to beat the Steelers.
Angry, Lewis told his team to play better or get out.
"There were so many points in the first half where we didn't play well enough," Lewis said. "We're not going to accept that. We are going to come out this week with a better resolve than we did this last week. I told them if they're not ready to come to work, then don't come in here because we are going to be a better football team than that."
Too bad the speech didn't happen during the game. The Bengals defense hustled and sacked Ben Roethlisberger seven times. The defense held the Steelers to three points on four first half trips into the red zone.
That obviously pleased Lewis.
"They played their hearts out but we have to play smart," Lewis said. "I don't know how in the world we got all those penalties. It's hard to overcome those things."
The Bengals had 10 penalties for 97 yards. The second half holding penalties killed any offensive continuity.
"Any penalties make it tough," Palmer said. "We need to do a better job in that area. It makes it tough to call plays when it's first-and-20 or second-and-20."
Palmer had his own problems. He was called twice for grounding. On the interception that Farrior returned for the touchdown, there were three defenders around wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
"He said it's not acceptable," Rudi Johnson said of Lewis' post game orders. "We are a better team that what we showed today. We're not going to accept hanging around against another team. We want to win ball games. We have six more games so everybody needs to be ready to come in tomorrow and get to work."
Unfortunately, at 4-6, there is little left to gain other than pride. Playoff hopes are slowly fading. Worse, they have an angry coach. His team is mediocre and he doesn't like it.
"I don't want to be that way at all," Lewis said of mediocrity. "Nobody is going to accept it. I don't want our fans to accept it or anyone to accept it."
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.