Bengals hit bottom

BY GEOFF HOBSON

BALTIMORE _ The Ravens knocked down quarterback Akili Smith on his sixth snap of the game with a mild concussion and then knocked out his Bengals in a 37-0 rout here Sunday at PSINet Stadium. The blow to the chin of their franchise quarterback symbolized maybe their most numbing loss in their 33 seasons.

But whether it was the last game ever for coach Bruce Coslet wasn't answered Sunday. Bengals President Mike Brown held true to his season-long vow and took no questions on the job status of the coach who lost for the 28th time in 35 games.

"That was about as thorough a beating as you'll see," was all Brown said after watching his team gain just four rushing yards.

But if Brown made a coaching move Monday morning, it would follow the historical impact of what happened Sunday afternoon.

The Bengals dropped to 0-3 on the season as the club suffered back-to-back shutouts for the first time ever in a game that tied for their worst loss ever in their worst shutout loss ever.How low? ESPN reported seven points is the lowest in the season's first three games since the 1945 Cardinals. How long ago? They were the Chicago Cardinals.

"Where do we go from here?" asked cornerback Artrell Hawkins. "We're definitely scraping the bottom of the barrel. As long as we keep concentrating on the past, we're not going to be able to look to the future."

No players wanted to touch the coaching question, but asked if there needed to be changes, eight-year veteran defensive end John Copeland pointed to his teammates.

"Yeah, they're have to be changes," Copeland said. "Each and every player has to change what they're doing. It starts with the players. If we don't do it, it can't be done by anyody else. There's no one to blame but us.

"It's probably the worst game I've ever been associated with since I've played football," Copeland said. "I just think we were physically beaten today."

Fullback Clif Groce wondered if players are waiting around for changes to be made and, "maybe that's the problem.

"I don't know if that's it. I hope not," Groce said. "You still got beat 37-0. Changes smanges. It was the players on the field no matter who was the staff or system or whatever."

Their seven points in the season's first three games is the lowest for a three-game stretch since the 1978 team scored three points in three weeks during a 4-12 season.

"I can never fault the effort," said nose tackle Oliver Gibson. "But football on this level is much more than effort. It's execution and discipline and we didn't play much with either today."

The frustration boiled throughout the humid afternoon. Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon, bottled up for just nine yards on 12 carries, stormed off the field after getting thrown for a two-yard loss in the fourth quarter. But he and coach Bruce Coslet denied they had a serious sideline conflict with the coach saying Dillon hugged him later in the locker room.

But Coslet didn't even have a handshake for Ravens coach Brian Billick after it was over. . . .

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Coslet was apparently furious that with two minutes left in a 34-0 game, Billick challenged a call that put the ball on the Bengals 1 instead of a touchdown.

The Ravens settled for a field goal and Coslet settled for a terse 10-word post-game press conference in which he congratulated the Ravens but took no questions.

But the Bengals seemed only mad at themselves.

"You can't get mad at them because they want to win and put points on the board," said Groce. "Should we have got mad at Jacksonville last week for blitzing us 100 times? No. Until you stop it, you'll bet they do it."

By the time Smith got drilled by untouched Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett, the Bengals were already down, 17-0, a minute into the second quarter. Backup Scott Mitchell, who completed 14 of 23 passes for 97 yards and two interceptions, could get Cincinnati only as far as the Baltimore 34-yard line.

"There's nowhere to go but up," Smith said. "It's probably the worst loss we've taken as a team. Now we've got Miami at home next week and they've got a great defense and we'll see how we respond."

The Bengals, who haven't scored since the second quarter of the opener, haven't scored in 10 straight quarters. In the game's first 27 minutes Baltimore posted 229 yards to the Bengals' six.

With 9:12 left in the first half, the Bengals' only first down at that point had come by penalty behind an offensive line that has now allowed 16 sacks in three games.

The game's defining moment came with 9:39 left in the third quarter when, facing a third-and-one from his own 47, Mitchell couldn't hook up with rookie receiver Peter Warrick on a play-action rollout pass. Then Groce's run up the middle was stuffed for no gain.

The Bengals dug themselves another hole in the first quarter as the Ravens hogged the ball for all about two minutes of the quarter to build a 10-0 lead and then forced a crushing turnover when Cincinnati kick returner Tremain Mack fumbled the ball on his own 27.

The Bengals have now been outscored, 27-0, in the first quarter, and the second quarter hasn't been too sweet, either. Two plays after Mack's fumble, Ravens running back Jamal Lewis scored on an 11-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter.

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