Thursday, January 03, 2002

Pro Bowl deemed a Bengal-free zone

Team last jilted in 1998 season

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Bengals say they're better.

        Their five victories are the club's most since 1997. They beat two playoff teams and one more that could make the postseason with a victory this weekend.

        The Bengals lost three consecutive games in December by a total of eight points. Their defense is ranked 10th in the NFL.

        But the announcement Wednesday of Pro Bowl rosters shows the Bengals might have taken a step backward. For the first time in three years, no Bengal was named to the AFC team.

        Running back Corey Dillon made the Pro Bowl roster after the 1999 and 2000 seasons, and he was joined on the 1999 team by kickoff returner Tremain Mack.

        Three players at almost every position make the roster. The Bengals had four alternates this season — Dillon, right tackle Willie Anderson, fullback Lorenzo Neal and linebacker Takeo Spikes — meaning they were in the next set of three in their positions.

        The Bengals had two first alternates, Dillon and Anderson. A first alternate will go if one of the chosen players can't.

        The top three AFC running backs are Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis, Kansas City's Priest Holmes and the Jets' Curtis Martin.

        “I've been to two out of the last three years,” said Dillon, who has rushed for 1,228 yards, second most in his five-year career. “Me, personally, I don't think I deserve to go, anyway. I'm not upset at all.

        “What bothers me is, (it's) my fifth year, and I'm in the same situation: I'm not winning. ... Everything else doesn't matter.

        “I mean, what do I do? Come here and play for stats? I could do that, but I'm not going to get anywhere doing that. My main focus is going out and winning, and we didn't win this year, so that's the disappointment to me.”

        Dillon may have had his best all-around season. He has played more on third down. He has been an effective blocker. He has career highs with 11 touchdowns, 318 rushes and a 96-yard run from scrimmage, and he has tied a career best with 31 receptions.

        He also became only the sixth player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first five seasons.

        “Who wants to go as an alternate?” Dillon said. “Man, I don't wish nobody who made it outright to get hurt. I don't want to go, and I don't want to make it that way.”

        At tackle, ahead of Anderson, the Pro Bowlers are Seattle's Walter Jones, Oakland's Lincoln Kennedy and Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden.

        Neal is the second alternate at fullback. The starting fullback on the AFC squad is Buffalo's Larry Centers.

        Takeo Spikes is the third alternate at outside linebacker. The top three are Pittsburgh's Jason Gildon, Cleveland's Jamir Miller and San Diego's Junior Seau.

        “I hate it, but life goes on,” said Spikes, the Bengals' leading tackler. “There are a lot of political reasons. It's wins and losses. Most people look at it as wins and losses.”

        The Bengals, who finish their season Sunday at Tennessee, are 16-47 in Spikes' four seasons.

        Quarterback Jon Kitna, in his first season with the Bengals, said he was surprised none of his teammates made the AFC team.

        “We have five or six guys that really played at a Pro Bowl level,” said Kitna, who Wednesday was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week. “But when you lose, it's really tough.”

        Kitna lobbied for Anderson, saying he can remember only one time this season that he was pressured from the right side. Dillon and Neal should go, Kitna said, and linebackers Spikes and Brian Simmons. “I've loved watching (Simmons) this year,” Kitna said. “It is disappointing, but that's this business.”

        The Bengals and Atlanta Falcons (7-8) were the only teams without Pro Bowlers.

        Coach Dick LeBeau, a three-time Pro Bowler in 14 seasons as a Detroit Lions cornerback, agreed with Kitna and Spikes that winning games secures Pro Bowl bids.

        “I'd put (defensive tackle) Oliver Gibson on that list of guys who can go out any week and play with anybody, and they're going to hold their own,” LeBeau said. “We have All-Pro players, but until we win more games, we may be shut out.”


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