10-8-01, 12:45 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
PITTSBURGH _ Everyone knew the Steelers would be emotional because they were playing the first regular-season game ever in Heinz Field snug on the river and tucked in history 65 feet away from dearly departed Three Rivers Stadium.
But no one expected the Bengals to treat Sunday's game with all the intensity of a hardware store opening.
Even Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau, the feel-good architect of a new era, couldn't hide his displeasure: "We have to play with more energy,"LeBeau said. "I'm sure of that."
After the Steelers rocked the Bengals for nine runs of at least 10 yards and held their offense to 3.8 yards per play, defensive captain Takeo Spikes saw his 2-2 team at a crossroads with next Sunday's home game against the feisty 3-1 Cleveland Browns.
"We were flat the whole game," Spikes said. "It's surprising. It's disappointing.
It's not acceptable. It's not acceptable."
How unacceptable? The 274 rushing yards by the Steelers is the most allowed by the Bengals since Nixon was The One. Not Trot. Richard. 1972.
"I don't know if we're out there thinking we're better than what we are," Spikes said. "I don't know if we're sitting back waiting for somebody to make a play. It's not acceptable. It's going to be a long damn season if we don't tighten it up."
Some veterans said it is too early to panic and do something drastic, like call a team meeting when the team is 2-2. Fullback Lorenzo Neal pledged the Bengals would respond with their best game of the year, "because of the character in this locker room."
But the problem seems to be the Bengals can't take their home locker room with them.
The Bengals' 2-0 start at Paul Brown Stadium has been countered with two weak losses by 44-21 on the road. LeBeau is 1-7 on the road. His predecessor, Bruce Coslet, was 7-23. Dave Shula was 7-29 before that and since 1991 no one in the NFL has been worse away from home at 15-67.
The disparity this year is stunning in two games at PBS and two on the road.
At home, the Bengals have scored 44 points, generated six turnovers and six sacks, and turned it over twice.
On the road, they've
allowed 44 points, scrounged two turnovers and four sacks, and turned it over five times.
"It's nice to establish something at home," said cornerback Tom Carter. "But we have to step it up on the road."
They have to be relieved they are at PBS this Sunday against the Browns and next Sunday against the Bears before going to Detroit Oct. 28.
"There's a different tempo on the road. We seem to catch on late," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "(The coaches) preached it, and preached it and preached it about playing with better tempo on the road and we let the whole coaching staff down. Let the organization down.
" Today, we weren't mentally tough enough to overcome the things we were tough mentally enough to beat at home," Anderson said. "This team is still a work in progress. . . .We got over (the first hump), that was getting guys to think they can win every ballgame. That second hurdle is getting guys to actually do it."
Middle linebacker Brian Simmons was amazed at the lack of emotion in the face of a crowd of 62,335, the biggest Steeler crowd ever.
"We've got to get it from somewhere," Simmons said."Those people damn sure aren't going to cheer for you."
Quarterback Jon Kitna felt the offense was in a better frame of mind than last week in San Diego because it wasn't as keyed up. And he knew the cause of the emotional lapse.
"That's when you lack emotion. When the other team beats you man for man and just pounding you," Kitna said. "When you're just not doing what you're supposed to do and when you're not executing like you're supposed to execute, you don't want to be all over guys."
Anderson said the Bengals need calm on the road and to match the home team's intensity.
"We have to figure it out mentally, knowing we can't just turn it on and off," Anderson said. "I know I've said some bad things. . .but I like how this team is thinking. . .We just have to look at how we beat two good teams at (New England and Baltimore)."
With everyone in the AFC Central having at least one loss (the Bengals are 1-1) except 1-0 Cleveland, the Bengals know how big this Sunday's game is home or away.
"They're a different team," Anderson said.
It's not the team the Bengals have beaten two straight times on the road.