Thursday, December 12, 2002

Many unhappy returns for Bengals


Foes have record 9 runbacks for TDs

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Bengals enter their 14th game with the highest points-against average in the league.

They rank 32nd with a 387-point total and a 29.8-point average. Buffalo is No.31 at 365 points and 28.1 points a game.

But don't put all of the blame on the Bengals' defense. The offense and special teams share some of it.

The 2002 Bengals have allowed a franchise-record nine touchdown returns, including a Bengals fumble recovered by Carolina in the end zone Sunday.

The previous high for touchdown returns against the Bengals was seven (1986, '91, '94 and '98).

Couple those nine touchdowns with the safety Sunday at Carolina, and the Bengals defense has not been on the field when the opponents have scored 65 of their points.

"It's inordinately high," Bengals coach Dick LeBeau said. "You don't see me bring these things up, but that's just the facts, and they are mitigating facts.

"They are reasons that this team will make it. I believe that the core of these people is productive."

Carolina scored 23 of its 52 points - the most ever against a Bengals team in a single game - when the defense was not on the field.

Still, the defense gave up 29.

"Our defensive numbers are off considerably from where they were last year," LeBeau said. "We do not have enough sacks or turnovers, and we have given up too many points."

The 2001 defense finished No.9 in total yards. Of the 309 points scored against the Bengals last season, 295 were scored against the defense.

"We never talk about it. We win and lose as a team," defensive lineman Bernard Whittington said.

The Bengals gave up three scores on returns Sunday - two punt returns by Carolina's Steve Smith and one on Al Wallace's fumble recovery in the end zone.

As bad as the Bengals have been in allowing touchdown returns, the St. Louis Rams have allowed the most, 12, this season.

The breakdown of return scores against the Bengals this season:

• Interceptions returned for touchdowns (3): Baltimore's Adalius Thomas and Chad Williams and Tampa Bay's Shelton Quarles.

• Blocked punts returned for touchdowns (1): Baltimore's Ron Johnson.

• Kickoffs returned for touchdowns (1): Pittsburgh's Antwaan Randle El.

• Punts returned for touchdowns (3): Carolina's Steve Smith (twice) and Baltimore's Lamont Brightful.

• Fumbles returned/recovered for touchdowns (1): Carolina's Al Wallace.

Giving up a high number of return touchdowns is usually a sign of a losing team. Three of the four times the Bengals have allowed seven touchdown returns, they finished with a 3-13 record (1991, '94 and '98). The exception was 1986, when they finished 10-6.

The 2002 Bengals have scored four touchdowns on returns:

• Interceptions returned for touchdowns (2): Brian Simmons against Tampa Bay and Artrell Hawkins against Houston.

• Fumbles recovered/returned for touchdowns (1): Takeo Spikes against Carolina.

• Kickoffs returned for touchdowns (1): Brandon Bennett against Baltimore.

The touchdown returns have helped Cincinnati to 235 points so far this season, more than last season's total of 226 and 2000's total of 185.

On the other side of the ball, the nine return touchdowns against the Bengals have helped put them on pace to allow the most points in franchise history.

Opponents have scored 387 points against the Bengals and are just 74 from breaking the Cincinnati franchise record of 460, set against the 1999 team.

E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com



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