12-15-03, 6:30 a.m.
12-15-03, 10:45 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Marvin Lewis' turnover lesson was never clearer than in Sunday's 41-38 victory at Paul Brown Stadium over San Francisco.
The Bengals became the first NFL team to give up 500 yards (502) and win since Dec. 1 of last season. They gave up their most points ever in a victory, passing the 36-33 win over Buffalo in 1986 and the 34-33 win over Baltimore in 1980.
They won because Niners running back Kevan Barlow fumbled the ball twice to linebacker Brian Simmons in the red zone (one was forced by tackle Tony Williams, the other by safety Mark Roman), and because the Bengals cashed the other for their first defensive touchdown of the season, a 10-yard fumble return by middle linebacker Kevin Hardy that gave them a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The Bengals also won because they didn't have a turnover for the sixth game this season, all wins. In their eight victories, they have two turnovers. The team that hasn't been plus in turnovers since 1996 is plus-5 after a plus-3 Sunday.
"They show us charts all the time," said right tackle Willie Anderson of Lewis and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "They've got all the categories of what the teams that have made the playoffs over the last five to seven years average. Teams that score 23 points a game and average one turnover a game. That's who makes it."
FINE PLAY:** Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson, who has been fined by the NFL more than $50,000 for transgressions this season ranging from orange shoes to untucked jerseys to pre-mediated celebrations, is probably looking at another one. After he scored the game's first touchdown on a 10-yard pass from quarterback Jon Kitna, he went to the wall at the back of the end zone and picked up a home-made orange sign that said, "Dear NFL, Please don't fine me again. Merry Christmas. Chad Johnson."
"The NFL has done me very, very wrong," Johnson said. "I'm just a young player having fun."
Johnson walked away from head coach Marvin Lewis on the sidelines ("He said something, but I ran away from him before he could start. I knew he was starting to fuss,"), and seemed pretty pleased with his idea of asking someone to make the sign for him that he stashed in his favorite end zone by the Bengals' tunnel.
"Not very good," said Lewis when asked about the sign. "Again, we just play football. We are getting a little bit caught up in things. It was big today. They have a player over there on the other side in Terrell Owens who is one hell of a football player. I think Chad was just trying to rise to the occasion all week, in pumping our guys up. Chad is a fine player in his own right, and he should just be Chad. He did well today."
Johnson had six catches for 91 yards, leaving him 63 yards shy of Eddie Brown's season receiving record of 1,273. His 10th touchdown catch came when he broke off his route off a Jon Kitna scramble.
KITNA SCRAMBLE:** In fact, both of Kitna's touchdown passes were off free-lance scrambles and reflected how well the offensive line pass protected. Kitna threw a lovely strike to wide receiver Peter Warrick cutting across the back of the end zone for a 31-yard score as he rolled to his left away from pressure.
"It's hard to cover past three or four seconds," Kitna said.
They give him 25 touchdown passes, a career-high, second in the NFL behind Peyton Manning, and four shy of Ken Anderson's club record.
"I should have had two more today, but we'll take the win," Kitna said. "The two things I look at after each game is my completion percentage, and the decisions I made with the football. We didn't turn the ball over today, and the completion percentage was high (18-for-25). When we do those things, the offense has a good chance to succeed."
DILLON HURTING:** Running back Corey Dillon was waylaid by the flu-like symptoms that attacked the team in Baltimore last week. He didn't practice Friday and carried just nine times for 24 yards before Rudi Johnson took over for good in the fourth quarter.
TERRELL ON TERREL: There is concern about the defense, which saved itself by coming up with three turnovers. They have given up 69 points in the last two weeks, four 100-yard rushers or receivers in the last three games, and at least 27 points in three of the last four games.
But they did get a solid game out of rookie cornerback Terrell Roberts and they needed him because the secondary was again in disarray. Cornerback Artrell Hawkins went down with a bruised quad on the third play of the game. Cornerback Jeff Burris appeared to get benched after giving up two touchdown bombs in the second quarter, and Kevin Kaesviharn moved to his spot from safety while Marquand Manuel came in to play safety. Safety Rogers Beckett started the game but didn't make it to half time because of illness. Rookie cornerback Dennis Weathersby was deactivated.
"They have had some guys hurt in there and they were bringing them in and out. We felt like in evaluating them we had a chance against both corners," said Niners coach Dennis Erickson. "In the second half, they played almost all zone — they almost all
played two-deep zone. We threw it underneath, and made some plays underneath, and were able to move the football some. They were bringing guys in the box early, then we hit them on a couple of long ones and they started to play two safeties back there."
But this is what the playoffs to do you. Hawkins came back into the game at the end of the first half to help out on a goal-line stand, and maybe took a couple of snaps in the second half. He said he'll be able to go in St. Louis this coming Sunday.
"Are you kidding?" asked Hawkins, who couldn't play last week because he was ill. "I've been on this team for six years and now we're playing huge games. I'm not going to spend a December game in the training room."
Roberts, who had a game-high 12 tackles, made the defensive play of the game off a left corner blitz early in the second quarter. He stripped the ball from 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia and it turned into middle linebacker Kevin Hardy's first NFL touchdown when Hardy picked up the all at the San Francisco 10.
"I was unblocked. I should have made the play," Roberts said. "I wasn't trying for just the sack. When I saw the ball, I wanted to get that.
"I thought somebody would be there to get me in the backfield," Roberts said. "But it was a clear path. When you get a clear path, you want to make a play on the ball. . .I saw the opening when he raised his arm up. I said, 'Hey, if I can just knock this ball out.'"
Poor Barlow. He had the other two fumbles, and it looked like he was the guy who was supposed to pick up Roberts. Hardy swooped in with a dilemma.
"I was trying to decide whether to jump on it or just pick it up and I said, 'What the hell, take a shot,,'" said Hardy, who hadn't scored a touchdown since eight years ago in college at Illinois. "We go up 14-0 and I'm thinking we're going to cruise along to a big win today. It was a big win, but we didn't cruise by any means."
Hardy provided the exact foil to the celebrations of Chad Johnson (sign) and Terrell Owens (flipping snow in the stands). He gave the ball to a kid in the stands.
"Now I think back, 'Man, that was my first touchdown and I gave it away," Hardy said. "But it probably meant a lot to him."
Sunday meant a lot to Roberts because he found himself matched at times with Owens, the 49er Pro Bowler. He had eight catches for 127 yards, but 58 came on a touchdown against Burris.
"I take pride in playing guys like that," Roberts said. "I feel I can learn from a guy like T.O. and get better. A couple of times he got the best of me. I felt like a couple of times I got some good plays against him. P> "He told me, 'Good job,' a couple of times," Roberts said. "He went about his business. He was professional."
Hardy, the consummate professional, knew what Sunday's outing meant. He admitted he felt relieved when the clock read 0.
"At this point as a defense, we can't play like that and expect to win," Hardy said. "We have to get better."