Sunday, September 29, 2002
Keys to the Game
Slow starts taking Bengals out of contention
By Mark Curnutte firstname.lastname@example.org
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Of the many unbelievable statistics that illustrate the Bengals' miserable 0-3 start, one of the most amazing is this:
The Bengals have spotted each of their three opponents a 20-0 lead before scoring.
A good NFL team has difficulty recovering from a 20-0 deficit, let alone a Bengals team that can't pass the ball and score quickly.
Falling behind 20-0 today to Tampa Bay would again take running back Corey Dillon out of the picture, put too much pressure on quarterback Akili Smith and turn whatever crowd there is against the Bengals. (For the record, the game is not sold out, but ticket sales surged after Tampa Bay's impressive Monday night victory over the Rams. The Bucs are the attraction).
Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp said the plan is to stop Dillon and see how much Smith has learned in the week since he was desperately promoted from emergency third QB to starter.
If we can get CD (Dillon) going, and keep those guys back, we'll have some success, Smith said of the pass rush.
One more set of numbers to show the unfathomable start: The Bengals have been outscored 26-0 in the first quarter and 31-3 in the second.
POINT TAKEN: Tampa Bay has scored 71 points, but the defense and special teams have 20 of them.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks has returned two interceptions for touchdowns. The Bucs had a team safety against Baltimore, and Karl Williams returned a punt for a TD.
The Bengals can't give the Buccaneers any defensive or special teams (read: easy) scores today and expect to have a chance to win.
The Bengals will have enough problems stopping Tampa Bay's increasingly efficient offense. Quarterback Brad Johnson hasn't thrown an interception in 115 attempts. Wide receivers Keenan McCardell and Keyshawn Johnson will be a challenge for the Bengals cornerbacks.
LETDOWN: Last season, the Buccaneers came off a Monday night victory at St. Louis and arrived in Cincinnati looking right past the Bengals.
The Bengals, to their credit, played well on Dec. 2, forcing the Bucs into overtime before losing 16-13.
The Bengals have to hope the same thing happens this year.
The Bucs beat the Rams 26-14 on Monday night at home. The game was closer than the score. Tampa Bay will go to Atlanta next week to play the dangerous Michael Vick.
Bucs coach Jon Gruden faces a big challenge to get his team emotionally ready for the Bengals.
I can't worry about those kinds of things, Gruden said of a possible letdown. I think we've got a real solid group, a mentally tough bunch. I believe our football team will show up and play their hearts out.
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Baseball Postseason Schedule
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