CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals' defense is a mess of epic proportions.
Less than a month after the Bengals were embarrassed in a 45-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, they came up with another stinker of a game on Sunday, falling 51-14 to the New Orleans Saints in a performance so bad that many fans at Paul Brown Stadium gave up and left at halftime.
The 37-point loss ranks as the worst in Marvin Lewis' career as an NFL head coach. The only other time in which a team outscored them by 37 points was against the Jets at the end of the 2009 season in a game in which the Bengals' starters played only a half as they rested for the playoffs.
Just how bad is the Bengals defense? They became the first team in the Super Bowl era to allow at least 500 yards in three straight games. They are last in the league in total defense and passing defense and rank 31st in run defense and scoring defense. They allow an average of 454.6 yards per game and are on pace to break the Saints' 2012 record for most yards allowed in a season.
The Bengals would have to allow an average of 421.6 yards per game to break that mark, and it's easy to see it happening considering Cincinnati has allowed at least 480 yards in five of its past six games.
The team is a curious contradiction. They are 5-4 and still in the playoff hunt with some easier matchups left on the schedule. They win the games they're supposed to win and lose the games they're supposed to lose.
And yet the gap between the Bengals and the teams at the top of the league is clearly a wide one.
"That's the funny part about it," said linebacker Vinny Rey. "It feels like things have been going haywire, but we're going to Baltimore [next] -- a team that we handled at our house. ... Right when it feels like the sky is falling, you go to Baltimore and take care of business and you're right in the middle of the fight [again]. Coaches are going to be on our tails tomorrow and rightly so. Every man needs to point [the finger at] themselves, because each person had stock in this loss."
There's not a magic fix waiting on the roster to save them. While they are playing without Nick Vigil, Carl Lawson, Darqueze Dennard and Vontaze Burfict, the problems on defense date back to the Falcons game on Sept. 30 when most of those players were on the field. That would imply the problem is overall talent or coaching.
"We're going to find out who we are," Rey said. "We've got a lot of these guys coming back that are going to help us. The rest of us, we're still going to be in the jerseys. We've got to go out and make plays ... Just fight, fight, fight. There's not cavalry coming, as some people would say. Yeah, we've got some guys coming back like Vontaze, but hey, we're the same guys. We're going to have to go out there and make plays."
The Bengals need to consider making a change to the scheme or the coaches. Lewis didn't answer those questions on Sunday, but he also didn't completely rule the idea out.
"It ... again, I'm not going to get into any observations today with that," Lewis said after a few seconds of silence.
When asked about potentially making any coaching changes, Lewis also dodged that question, too.
"Again, I'm not going to talk about any of that stuff," he said.
Lewis also said the same thing last season the night before offensive coordinator Ken Zampese was fired. He told the media he wouldn't discuss it both that night and also during his news conference the next day, even though Zampese already had been fired by that morning.
The Bengals don't tend to make those kind of moves. Prior to Zampese, no coordinator had been fired during the season, and it appeared to take a near player rebellion in the locker room for that to happen.
What it will take for it to happen at this point of the season is unclear, but the facts and statistics don't lie.
The Bengals need to make some changes, or they might just see their playoff hopes disappear.