CINCINNATI -- The frustration is starting to build.
Three lackluster games by the Cincinnati Bengals offense is starting to bother their reality-show receivers and the quarterback cast in the role of ringmaster.
The only thing keeping the frustration at a low simmer is the record. The Bengals (2-1) have managed to win their last two games with solid defense and a lot of field goals, keeping the defending AFC North champions a game behind Pittsburgh. They're in the soft part of their schedule, with their next game in Cleveland against the winless Browns.
Still, the lack of points is getting everyone a little on edge.
"It's one of those things where it's frustrating for myself, but I've got to keep plugging away," said Owens, who has 14 catches for 152 yards without a touchdown. "I'm not going to gripe. The most important thing, as I've alluded to here, is we're winning. If we were losing, then I would definitely have a lot to say."
The stats say this T-Ocho pairing has a long way to go before it's special.
When the Bengals signed Owens to a one-year deal at the start of camp, he and Chad Ochocinco dubbed themselves Batman and Robin and predicted big things for a passing game that was one of the league's worst last season. So far, it's been middle-of-the-pack, and that's only because the Bengals managed to throw for a lot of yards after falling behind New England 31-3 in the opener.
It's so bad that Ochocinco has tamed his nonstop banter.
"I usually start the trash talking, but the offense has been really stagnant so I have to back off of that a little bit until we pick up to where we're supposed to be in doing some of the things that's expected of us offensively," Ochocinco said.
Several factors play into the stuck-in-neutral passing game.
Quarterback Carson Palmer is still getting familiar with Owens, rookie receiver Jordan Shipley and rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham. The rookies are still learning the offense. The offensive line hasn't performed as well as last season, keeping Palmer under pressure.
Even the running game with Cedric Benson, which was the staple of the offense last season, has been nothing more than middling.
"I think we're just as unsatisfied as players as the fans may be because we want to go out and score points and we want to see Chad's end zone dances and see what Terrell does and get Ced the ball and have him run for 120 yards on average," said Palmer, the league's 22nd-ranked passer.
Coach Marvin Lewis and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said this week that part of the problem is having so many new receivers in the system -- Owens and the two rookies are on the field a lot, leaving Ochocinco the only holdover.
"There's new guys, so that's part of the deal," Palmer said. "That's going to happen, especially when two of the new guys are rookies and it's their first three games of the season. They're going to make mistakes just like anybody. That's part of the growing pains of having rookies that are starters and having new guys on your team that haven't been here before."
Palmer has become a target of fans' frustrations with the passing game, but Ochocinco won't hear of it.
"There is nothing wrong with Carson," Ochocinco said. "Trust me. I've seen him for eight years. Carson and I have been dating for a while now, you know? He's fine."
The receivers realize they raised everyone's expectations when the Bengals signed Owens and Ochocinco began calling them a dream team and superheroes. That's added to the frustration over the early struggles.
"There's not a sense of panic or anything right now, but you want to try to establish some kind of identity, chemistry and flow of what we have offensively," Owens said. "As of right now, we haven't done that. I don't think it's a situation where it's just going to click.
"This is something where you definitely want to be on the same page with the quarterback offensively. Guys want to be able to run the ball at will. We want to be able to pass the ball at will at any given time. We know we're not functioning as we should on the offensive side of the ball."
The Bengals still have some time to get it right. After Cleveland, they play Tampa Bay (2-1) at home, then have their bye week. The toughest stretch of their schedule follows.
"Of course we're not playing up to our abilities," offensive lineman Bobbie Williams said. "I'll be the first to stay that. This offense is steadily building its identity. We've got new people in key positions.
"You haven't seen the best of the Bengals. There's so much more out there."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press