Bengals lose, 16-7

BY GEOFF HOBSON

PHILADELPHIA _ On the other hand, the Bengals wish they weren't in Philadelphia on Christmas Eve.

Wide receiver Peter Warrick's leaping 17-yard touchdown catch in the left corner of the end zone on a pass from quarterback Scott Mitchell with 3:12 left in the game made it close.

But it wasn't enough to rescue another miserable offensive day for the Bengals in a 16-7 loss to the play-off bound Eagles.

The first dozen minutes of Sunday's game were the worst, when the Eagles took a 10-0 lead after the Bengals lost a fumble, a replay

The opening moments set the tone on a day Cincinnati's road problems continued here at Veterans Stadium in the season finale.

They went into the half with just 26 first-half points on the road this season and Warrick's catch prevented them from getting shut out for the fourth time. In 13 games, the Bengals' offense either failed to score a touchdown or scored only one.

The passing game, last in the NFL all season, offered no hope for next season. At least in the first 57 minutes. Mitchell couldn't get the ball down field in the first half with his longest of five completions going for 12 yards to wide receiver Ron Dugans.

After Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins picked up a fumble near his own goal line and ran for 12 yards in the middle of the fourth quarter, Mitchell still couldn't get it going.

He was just 13 of 25 for 121 yards before trying to hit tight end Marco Battaglia. Eagles linebacker Carlos Emmons grab the tipped ball with 7:01 left in the game. Mitchell finished 18 of 33 for 183 yards.

The problem was magnified with the Eagles hounding running back Corey Dillon into just 39 yards on 16 carries.

The offensive woes were summarized in the third quarter after Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes recovered two fumbles, one at the Philadelphia 36 and the other at the Eagles 18.

On first down of the first series, Williams dropped Mitchell's swing pass. On second down, Dillon dropped a swing pass on the other side that lost six yards. On third-and-l6, Mitchell's three-yard completion to Ron Dugans did nothing.

After Spikes fell on a fumble at the 18 following a hit by strong safety Chris Carter, the Bengals went nowhere and got nothing when Neil Rackers' 31-yard field-goal try hit the left upright.

The passing game stirred early in the fourth quarter, when Mitchell hit back-to-back passes of 13 and 18 yards to Farmer and tight end Steve Bush, respectively. But with the Bengals at the Eagles 17, tackle Hollis Thomas blew through the middle of the line to knock the ball away from Mitchell and force the Bengals' NFL-high 21st fumble.

The offense wasn't helped when right tackle Willie Anderson left with a bruised thigh in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb killed the Bengals softly with a series of runs (for 20 yards) and passes (for 198 yards) in throwing a touchdown pass and steering the Eagles to three David Akers' field goals.

The Bengals' offense went three plays-and-out on their first three possessions and had the ball for just 5:08 in the first quarter.

One drive ended when wide receiver Danny Farmer fumbled a pass over the middle and Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent recovered it at the Cincinnati 39.

After watching the replay at the Bengals' request, the officials ruled Farmer caught the ball before losing it, and McNabb went deep on the next play for a touchdown. Wide receiver Charles Johnson got behind rookie cornerback Mark Roman to give the Eagles a 10-0 lead with about four minutes left in the first quarter.

The Eagles took a 3-0 lead on their longest drive of the season with an 18-play, 8:12 sojourn on their first possession of the game that ended in Akers' 32-yard field goal.

McNabb flashed his ample run-pass abilities with back-to-back scrambles of eight yards, and he found tight end Chad Lewis three times for 24 yards in the drive.

The Bengals drove to the Eagles 32 early in the second quarter, thanks mainly to a 14-yard burst up the middle by fullback Nick Williams. The Bengals passed up a 49-yard field goal try when they went for it on fourth-and-nine. Mitchell, who missed on five of his first eight passes, couldn't hook up with Farmer over the midde.

The Bengals went into Sunday's season finale here at Veterans Stadium with a coach in place for next year, but not much else.

One of the key questions figures to get answered Tuesday after Bengals President Mike Brown meets with head coach Dick LeBeau to decide the fate of the coaching staff.

With LeBeau moving up from defensive coordinator, he's not expected to let go the defensive staff he assembled when he arrived before the 1997 season and includes two of his former players in line coach Tim Krumrie and secondary coach Ray Horton.

It's believed the major change on that side of the ball will be linebackers coach Mark Duffner getting the coordinator title.

There's also the possibility that special teams coach Al Roberts will be retained. But the big question is on offense and what the future holds for offensive coordinator Ken Anderson and if the club will add a quarterbacks coach.

Two of the key assistants in the NFL's second-ranked running game, running backs coach Jim Anderson and offensive line coach Paul Alexander, figure to stay.

Defensive tackle John Copeland, who left last week's game against Jacksonville with a strained calf, was in the starting lineup.

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