Monday, September 30, 2002

Buccaneers 35, Bengals 7

Akili-driven offense goes nowhere

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Now what? The Bengals tried their third quarterback of the season, Akili Smith, and failed to score any offensive points Sunday.

        Tampa Bay defeated the Bengals, 35-7, before a crowd that was noticeably smaller than the 57,234 tickets distributed.

        The Bengals have now been outscored 119-23 and have started 0-4 in three of the past four and six of the past 12 seasons.

24 Bengals-Bucs photos

        “I don't know if it's the all-time low, but it's not too far from it,” said fifth-year linebacker Takeo Spikes, whose career record with the Bengals is 17-51. “It's because of the high expectations.

        “If I was a gambler and was in Las Vegas, I would have put everything I had on the Bengals.”

        Good thing he didn't.

        The 2002 Bengals are clearly more talented than, say, Bruce Coslet's 1998 squad or Dave Shula's '93 team. But this version of the Bengals is as hapless and uninspiring as those 3-13 teams.

        The franchise has a 53-127 won-loss record under president and de facto general manager Mike Brown in the past 11-plus seasons without a playoff appearance.

        The Bengals did have a lead Sunday for the first time this season. In the first quarter, linebacker Brian Simmons made a reaching interception of a Brad Johnson pass and ran 51 yards for the touchdown.

        But Tampa Bay (3-1) scored five TDs in a row, three on Johnson scoring passes. The Bengals have given up nine scoring passes with just two interceptions.

    Facts about the Bengals' 0-4 record:
  • The Bengals have been outscored 119-23.
  • Their average score is 29.7-5.7.
  • It's the Bengals' third 0-4 start in four seasons and sixth in the past 12. In their five previous 0-4 starts, the Bengals finished either 4-12 or 3-13 each time.
  • The Bengals have one offensive TD this year.
  • The Bengals have been outscored in the first half 78-10.
  • The Bengals have thrown one touchdown pass and been intercepted nine times.
  • Bengal opponents have thrown nine touchdown passes and been intercepted twice.
        The Bengals essentially lost the game with 1:01 remaining in the first half when Smith's pass for Ron Dugans was intercepted and returned 25 yards for a touchdown by Buccaneers linebacker Shelton Quarles. A one-touchdown game became an insurmountable 21-7 halftime deficit.

        “No, I'm not discouraged,” Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau said. “If we keep working, then I think we'll come out of it.”

        The Bengals not only lost. The Bucs marched in and out of Cincinnati without showing the Bengals a lick of respect.

        Tampa Bay wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who had a 65-yard touchdown catch among his 108 receiving yards, said, “We had one thing in mind: a short business trip after Monday night.”

        Tampa Bay defeated the St. Louis Rams on Monday and had just five days to prepare for the Bengals.

        Smith was abused all day - physically and verbally - by Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who had two of Tampa Bay's three sacks.

        “He called me every bad word in the dictionary,” Smith said after throwing for 117 yards and one interception. Bengals quarterbacks have thrown just one touchdown pass and seven interceptions in four games. They have a passer rating of 44.3, compared to opponents' 108 rating.

        LeBeau said he needed to look at game film before deciding if Smith would start Sunday at Indianapolis.

        But, LeBeau said, he wasn't sure Smith had much of a chance.

        “He was harassed, that's for sure,” LeBeau said. “We couldn't run the ball to keep them off him.”

        Smith agreed, but he also took personal responsibility for missing open receivers.

        “I played poorly today,” Smith said. “I just didn't get it done. I don't know if (Jon) Kitna or (Gus) Frerotte would have had a chance today, either.”

        Sapp gave neither the Bengals nor Smith any respect.

        “We weren't fearing him, at no time,” Sapp said of Smith. “Even if we give them seven (points), they still can't play with us.”

        Bengals fans didn't show their team much respect, either.

        The Bengals got the Bronx cheer twice in the second half. The first came when Smith simply attempted a deep pass and overthrew an open Chad Johnson for the first of two times. Later, Smith was flushed out of the pocket to the right and lobbed the ball into the first row of stands, where a fan caught it.

        The Bengals did little to earn any respect.

        They've allowed more than 30 points for the third time in four games.

        Twice, the special teams had 12 men on the field.

        A promising second-and-5 possession from the Bucs 11-yard line ended with a missed Neil Rackers field-goal attempt from 45 yards. A sack and two delay-of-game penalties pushed the Bengals back 18 yards.

        They've scored just one offensive touchdown this season and are averaging 5.75 points. In 20 games running coordinator Bob Bratkowski's offense, the Bengals are scoring 12.5 points per game.

        Dating back to the start of the 2000 season, the Bengals have scored seven or fewer points in 17 of 36 games.

        After the game, Smith sat in his locker with a dazed look on his face. Bratkowski squatted like a baseball catcher in front of Smith and patted the quarterback on the knees.

        The coach talked quietly before rising, softly slapping Smith on the back and walking away.

        “We've been losing and losing badly for four years now,” Smith said. “And we're constantly trying to figure out what the heck is going on.”


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