Monday, September 15, 2003

Potential evident in loss to AFC champs


Glimmers of hope shine in close loss

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OAKLAND, Calif. - Asking for patience in the NFL is like asking for a diamond mine in your backyard. Extreme makeovers are so common and swift, the whole league should be set in Hollywood. When the Bengals ask for patience, it tries your patience.

It could be that on Sunday, they validated their request. Marvin Lewis has asked you to "hang with us," which is nothing more than a rah-rah pitch for a little slack.

You've got to be in a more giving mood this morning.

What a game. What a Bengals game. Given the opponent, the location and the circumstance, it was the best Bengals game in 12 years. It was the sort of game you've watched everyone else in the NFL play forever. It was the kind of game that left you hopeful for next Sunday.

When was the last time a loss made you believe times really are changing?

The Bengals could have won, should have won, might have won, but for a bad call, a bad decision on a pass and a desperate pass interference penalty that no one today is faulting Jeff Burris for.

The Bengals lost to the Oakland Raiders 23-20, but it was a legit loss against the reigning AFC champs.

Said Jon Kitna: "They certainly know in that other locker room that they didn't win."

Bengals players weren't reveling in the moral 'W.' Nobody fouled the air by saying how hard everyone tried. But the postgame mood wasn't funereal. Lewis asked his team all week to keep working and believing in what the new regime was doing. In the first quarter, when the Bengals fell behind 0-10, Lewis said it again.

"Relax and play," Lewis said, roaming the sideline. "Don't panic. ... Do what we've been teaching. ... It's a long game."

Lewis was dead on. It was a long game, with more plot twists than Ben and J.Lo's relationship. That the Bengals didn't win says mainly they're still learning how. At least they're getting close enough to take the lesson.

"To me, a loss is a loss," Brian Simmons said. "But we stayed together for 60 minutes. What hurts is we gave it up at the end."

Until the end, the Bengals' defense handled reigning league MVP Rich Gannon like a Division I-AA quarterback. In the second half, the Raiders' QB had zero passing yards until late in the third quarter. Cincinnati's offense ran up 416 yards, even as Corey Dillon was sitting out most of the second half.

The Bengals even avoided a signature Bengal Moment, though Kitna's pass that was intercepted by Phillip Buchanon and returned for a TD came close.

"The Bengals of old would have just sat down" after that, Chad Johnson said.

Instead, Kitna drove them 53 yards in just over two minutes for the tying touchdown. Right before Kitna connected with Peter Warrick for the TD that made it 20-20, the stadium video board replayed Buchanon's pick-and-run, with the Raiders' radio man intoning for the crowd to hear, "Jon Kitna, it took him 56 minutes, but he finally made the big mistake."

True enough. But this time it wasn't fatal.

The Raiders answered. You guessed they might. There is a reason Oakland was the best team in the AFC last year, and Cincinnati the worst. Helped when Burris interfered with Jerry Rice on third-and-10 from the Bengals 37, Gannon drove them close enough for the game-winning field goal.

Even Burris' mistake can't be faulted. He was in single coverage with the best receiver on the planet, because the Bengals were throwing an all-out blitz at Gannon. If you're going to lose, don't leave any bullets in the gun.

"There is no satisfaction with the outcome," Lewis decided. Maybe not. But when patience is required, some losses are a whole lot worthier than others.

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E-mail pdaugherty@enquirer.com




BENGALS
Raiders 23, Bengals 20
Bengals-Raiders stats
Daugherty: Potential evident in loss to AFC champs
Receiver his own worst critic
Notes: Gannon fails to move team until it counts

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