Monday, January 07, 2002
Odd moves don't matter if you win
NASHVILLE, Tenn. First, they were too timid. Then, they were too bold. The Cincinnati Bengals careened between caution and carelessness Sunday, between strangely conservative and downright dumb.
You scratched your head. Then you yanked at your hair. You wondered what they were thinking. Then you wondered what they were drinking.
And then you watched Neil Rackers kick another game-winning field goal and all of Dick LeBeau's football felonies were suddenly moot misdemeanors.
Weird what winning does to spin doctoring. Twice during Sunday's fourth quarter, LeBeau and his staff fairly begged to be bashed. They passed up a reasonable
field goal attempt behind by one point and subsequently ordered a preposterous, disastrous option pass one yard from the end zone.
They were poised for a media roasting when Rackers' last-minute field goal gave the Bengals a season-ending 23-21 victory over the Tennessee Titans. Sometimes, the worst-laid plans pan out.
I didn't want people to turn off the TV set, LeBeau joked later. I wanted to keep it interesting so we could go down to the last kick.
The expression on LeBeau's face was about what you'd expect from the pregnant woman who catches the bridal bouquet. It was a blend of embarrassment and surprise, relief and rapture. This is the way a man looks when the fates finally start conspiring on his behalf.
Maybe, Corey Dillon mused, the tide is turning.
Dillon scored two touchdowns Sunday, raised his season rushing total to 1,315 yards, but risked being remembered for his role in the most ill-advised play of the season.
With 6:55 left to play, and the Bengals perched at Tennessee's one-yard line with a one-point deficit, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski ordered a halfback option pass with Dillon as option passer. Because Dillon had not thrown a pass in five pro seasons and was operating with a swollen pinky on his throwing hand, the call was at best bizarre.
They don't pay me to throw the rock, Dillon said.
LeBeau conceded later he didn't like the call, but had already used all of his timeouts and was poorly positioned to exercise his veto. When Tennessee linebacker Greg Favors tipped and then caught Dillon's underthrown pass, the sound you heard was Bengals fans flinging beer glasses at their television screens.
Earlier, LeBeau had elected to punt when presented with a 48-yard field goal opportunity that could have put the Bengals ahead. Rackers was two-for-two against the wind in the third quarter, and now the breeze was at his back. But rather than go for the lead, LeBeau chose to play for field position.
It was either a gutty gamble or another reflection of LeBeau's doubt in Rackers' range. If a professional kicker can't be trusted to try a 48-yard field goal to win a game, he probably should be cut. Unless, of course, he later kicks a 34-yarder that wins the game.
All's well that ends well, Dick LeBeau said.
I think Shakespeare said that, he was told.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/sullivan.
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