Monday, September 30, 2002

Defense finally creates turnovers




By Shannon Russell srussell@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Bengals recovered a fumble and danced. The Bengals picked off a pass and spiked the ball. On Sunday afternoon, the home team's players acted like they had never caused a turnover. And in the first three games this season, they hadn't.

        But the defense showed signs of life in a 35-7 loss to Tampa Bay, despite the Buccaneers' 262 yards passing and 101 yards rushing.

        Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins recovered a fumble on Tampa Bay's first drive for Cincinnati's first forced turnover since Jan.6. A botched handoff from Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson rolled down running back Michael Pittman's legs. Hawkins pounced on the loose ball for his fourth career recovery.

        “It felt like our defense from last year,” Hawkins said. “We were all excited.”

        The mood flourished on Tampa Bay's third possession when linebacker Brian Simmons picked off a pass and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown. It marked the only time this season the Bengals have scored in the first quarter.

        And there were other highlights: Defensive tackle Oliver Gibson recorded his first career interception in the third quarter off a Johnson pass and Justin Smith tip. Hawkins nailed Johnson on a first-quarter sack for 5 yards, and defensive tackle Tony Williams sacked Johnson for 10 yards in the second quarter.

        But the infrequency of the turnovers showed in the players' reactions. Hawkins did a dance after the fumble recovery and Gibson spiked the ball after his interception.

        Simmons kept his poise after his touchdown, because “the outcome of the game wasn't dictated by one play. Turnovers are something we wanted to work on, and it's something we still need to do on a consistent basis. We have to find a way to keep doing that for four quarters.”

        The Bengals, who have been outscored 119-23 in their four losses, recovered 15 fumbles last season. Their opponents, collected 11 fumbles in 2001.

        Bengals coach Dick LeBeau, whose background is in defense, said his team made too many mistakes to pull off the win.

        Hawkins, meanwhile, said Sunday's gains are promising and could bolster the struggling unit.

        “We've been inconsistent, we've been sloppy and we've been stupid as far as penalties are concerned,” Hawkins said. “We're disappointed, but we're trying not to get discouraged.”

       



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