Sunday, September 7, 2003

Still the same old Bengals

Then they played a game.

If you are the Cincinnati Bengals, it's better to have a perpetual offseason, when all anyone can talk about is how good things are going to be, without having to witness how bad things actually are. Still.

Better to keep Marvin Lewis on permanent honeymoon, sending postcards of tropical sunsets, offering messages of no-excuses hope. Better to keep the Bengals away from an actual game that counts. Because right now, deja has already met vu, and it's not a pretty sight. "We still have 15 games to play," a hopeful Artrell Hawkins said. He meant it as a promise, not a threat.


16 game photos
"Go back and work harder," Lewis said after Bengals 10, Broncos 30, when someone asked him what was next. The Bengals "hung together," the coach said. "They could have gotten run out of the ballpark."

You mean they didn't?

Question: How do you practice half the spring and all summer, invest yourself in free weights and hours of meetings, wrap yourselves in new-attitude feelgood and blow a home opener the way the Bengals did today?

They were never in the game. They lost by 20 and it wasn't that close. Denver quarterback Jake Plummer won by 20, even as he was creating a QB rating of 21.7. For English majors, that's an almost impossibly bad showing by the most important player on the football field.

What might happen next Sunday in Oakland, where they have Rich Gannon, a real quarterback?

For awhile, the Bengals weren't overwhelmed, overmatched or otherwise humiliated. They were losing, but blatant foolishness wasn't apparent. Jon Kitna broke that spell. The Bengals were down 20-3 early in the third quarter when Kitna offered up the first Bengal Moment of the season.

Denver defensive end Trevor Pryce beat guard Matt O'Dwyer to the inside and stuck himself in Kitna's face. Kitna scrambled, then Gus Frerotte-d a shovel pass to Corey Dillon that Dillon couldn't have caught with a gill net. Denver linebacker Ian Gold picked it off, ran 12 yards for the score. Whoop-whoop-whoop.

We could analyze What Went Wrong. But really, until these Bengals show they're no longer Those Bengals, it's pointless.

Lewis emphasizes fundamentals, such as tackling. In August, the Bengals appeared to be listening. Today, they tackled like they were playing flag football.

They didn't block. They didn't shed blocks. Kitna reopened all his familiar wounds, fumbling twice and throwing two interceptions. The play-calling was silly, as usual: A Brandon Bennett run on fourth-and-4, a 5-yard completion on fourth- and-10. By halftime, the 63,820 home faithful at Paul Brown Stadium already had been beaten into familiar, torpid submission, awakening only to boo Kitna.

But we digress.

"It doesn't matter as long as your attitude isn't affected," said Hawkins. Hawkins has been here six years. He's qualified to speak about any and all forms of Bengal-ness. "If you let (this loss) play tricks on your mind, you're not going to win."

Next Sunday will be a good indication of what effect Lewis has had. He can't change the personnel overnight; he has worked hard on changing the attitude. If the Bengals react to this Sunday by playing the same way next Sunday, get out your basketball schedules.

As Hawkins put it, "Next week's game will be telling of our mentality."

You want to believe in Lewis and what he is trying to do, if only because the alternative is intense psychiatric therapy. But until coach and team give you a reason to believe, don't bother. Sunday afternoon football games will be Monday morning autopsies. And we'll look forward again to the offseason, when no one loses.

Broncos 30, Bengals 10
Daugherty column: Still the same old Bengals
Offensive line takes the blame
Lewis brings a new style
Daugherty column: Time for redemption has arrived
Dillon record motivates both Bengals, Broncos
Bengals fans need to chart their way home
Who will have better debut, Lewis or Plummer?
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