No one ever told Marvin Lewis it was going to be easy to turn the Cincinnati Bengals into winners.

In his first two seasons as an NFL head coach, Lewis transformed the Bengals from a laughingstock of a franchise into a mediocre team. Now, after those two 8-8 seasons, he seemingly has the club poised for big things.

The Bengals endured quarterback Carson Palmer's growing pains last season. Now the top overall selection in the 2003 draft enters his second season as an NFL starter with a reliable runner (Rudi Johnson) and one of the league's better receiving combinations (Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh) at his disposal. Lewis, meantime, got experience for a host of rookie defensive players last season, and the unit should be much improved this year if those youngsters develop into dependable players as second-year pros.

But if the Bengals had aspirations of being competitive with the league's top teams this season, those hopes were tempered on Friday when they went into Philadelphia for their third preseason game and fell behind the Eagles, 27-3, at halftime before the backups took over in the second half. Two cosmetic fourth-quarter touchdowns made the score look more respectable as the Bengals lost, 27-17.

"We didn't tackle," Lewis said after the game. "We didn't block. We didn't cover and we didn't punt. . . . I think the eye-opening thing and the lesson learned was that we were going against a very good football team. . . . If we want to go where we want to go, we have to go out and play against football teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and respond to those challenges."

The Bengals botched a coverage and allowed Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens to catch a 64-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Donovan McNabb on the game's first play from scrimmage, and things didn't get markedly better from there. Still, Lewis and his players said their high hopes for this season have not been diminished too significantly.

"This year we have to go out and take care of business and everyone has to do their responsibilities," Rudi Johnson said. "If everyone does that, then we will be okay. Our goal is to be in Detroit [site of the Super Bowl in February]."

Said Lewis: "We're going to use this. It's a lesson learned. It's on tape. It doesn't count for anything, and it's there. Every time you lose, you'd better use it to your advantage. And we're going to do that." . . .

The Bengals today released wide receiver Peter Warrick, the former first-round draft choice who missed most of last season because of a leg fracture and never worked his way back into the playing rotation this summer. He was to have a salary of nearly $2.3 million this season if he'd remained with the Bengals.

Price Not Right

Atlanta today released wide receiver Peerless Price, who had been a major disappointment since the Falcons traded a first-round draft pick to Buffalo to obtain him in 2003.

Price was a standout No. 2 receiver for the Bills as a complement to top wideout Eric Moulds, but didn't excel with the burden of being the supposed No. 1 wideout in Atlanta. He had only 45 catches last season. The Falcons dropped him from the starting lineup during training camp, and now save about $2 million on this season's salary cap by letting him go. . . .

St. Louis cornerback Terry Fair was taken off the field on a stretcher during Monday night's preseason game at Detroit but, according to the Rams, his injury was nothing more serious than a strained neck. He never lost consciousness or feeling in his extremities, according to the Rams.

Abraham Gives In

Defensive end John Abraham reported to the New York Jets on Monday and signed the one-year, $6.666 million contract that the team tendered to him in February when it named him its franchise player.

Abraham's return represented a complete surrender. He received no assurances from the club about if or when a long-term contract might be negotiated. He did not secure an agreement from the Jets not to name him the franchise player again next spring.

Abraham is scheduled to practice today if he passes a physical. He is not slated to play in Thursday's preseason finale at Philadelphia but is expected to be ready for part-time duties as a pass rusher at the outset of the regular season, splitting time with fill-in starter Bryan Thomas. Abraham missed the final six games of last season, including the Jets' two playoff contests, because of a knee injury.

Pats Relying on Flutie

The New England Patriots waived quarterback Rohan Davey. That left Doug Flutie as the backup to starter Tom Brady, and perhaps secured a roster spot for Matt Cassel, a seventh-round draft pick out of USC who backed up Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart with the Trojans.

Flutie, 42, seemed headed toward retirement or the Canadian Football League when the San Diego Chargers released him. But the Patriots signed the local legend, and now Flutie is one misstep by Brady away from being the leader of the team's bid for a fourth Super Bowl title in five seasons.

As for Davey, he is highly regarded around the league and probably will have a new team quickly. One prospective landing spot is Miami, where the Dolphins have an unsettled quarterback situation and are coached by Davey's former coach at LSU, Nick Saban. . . .

Wide receiver Troy Edwards, released by Jacksonville, agreed to a contract with Tennessee. . . .

The Seattle Seahawks expect to be without starting right tackle Floyd (Pork Chop) Womack for the first four games of the regular season because of a partially torn triceps muscle. Second-year pro Sean Locklear takes over as the starter. . . .

Veteran defensive end Antonio Cochran was among the players released Monday by the Seahawks. The move cleared salary-cap space for Seattle to attempt to sign defensive tackle Corey Simon, who became an unrestricted free agent when the Eagles removed their franchise-player tag from him Sunday. The Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills also contacted agent Roosevelt Barnes on Monday to express interest in Simon. The Ravens nearly traded for Simon in the offseason, and the Bills were thought to be interested in trying to trade for him during training camp. . . .

Miami traded linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo to Chicago for tight end John Owens and a conditional 2006 draft choice. . . .

The Dolphins released veteran guard Frank Middleton. . . .

Cleveland cornerback Daylon McCutcheon was cleared by doctors to practice and could play Thursday night against the Bears after missing most of training camp because of migraine headaches. . . .

Quarterback Peyton Manning participated in the Colts' light practice Monday despite a bruised left (non-throwing) shoulder. The bigger concern for the Colts is a foot injury to right tackle Ryan Diem, whose status for the opening of the regular season is unclear.