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Bengals play Falcons, fight perception

9-18-02, 2:30 p.m.


It's the one chance for the Bengals to stop their long-running national joke and deliver their own punch to the same old line.

"I know one week out of the year Chris Berman won't say anything bad about us," said linebacker Takeo Spikes of the impact of a win over the Falcons on ESPN Sunday night.

Spikes and right tackle Willie Anderson are Atlanta residents, but they know the game has national ramifications. Anderson wonders if enough of his teammates understand the humiliation heaped upon them.

"I wish we weren't 0-2, but that still gives a chance to play with a different perception from what the entire league has about us," Anderson said. "ESPN continually rips us up. I've been around here seven years and I don't know if some guys take that to heart. That you're constantly getting battered and badgered like that, and ESPN talks about us and put downs. If that doesn't hurt your pride, that should drive you on Sunday."

Bengals President Mike Brown views the national critics the same way he looks at his favorite editorial cartoonist, Jim Borgman, the always fresh Pulitzer Prize winner from "The Cincinnati Enquirer." Brown, an

omnivorous reader, has found none better than Borgman. And he knows Borgman has never had an easier target.

"Everyone likes Borgman and I'm no exception," Brown said. "My favorite cartoonist gets us about biweekly. When he does the things he does on us, he usually has ample grounds to do them."

On Sunday night, Brown hopes the Bengals can find their ground.

"It's gotten to the point where 'Bungles,' alliterates with 'Bengals,'" Brown said. "We don't do enough to get them off our backs. This is a good chance to help them get off our backs."

There is a view in the locker room that national writers and broadcasters take the cliff notes version of the Bengals' story from a few years ago and don't bother to update as long as the club continues to lose.

"We've got an opportunity to let people judge for themselves that we've got a lot of good players on this team and it's just not what they read," said cornerback Artrell Hawkins. "A lot of what they're hearing is negative press. I don't think there are any players on this team who want to pass up a chance like that after what's been said."

Of course, Spikes and his teammates know that the only way to stop it is to win. Spikes thinks a solid game on Sunday will yield spectacular plays and those players will get the individual "praise that they deserve.

"I don't think one game (will change the perception)," Spikes said. "But I think it could be a snowball effect for us. It could do something good for us, for the next upcoming games."

Spikes says he's not thinking how one national TV game could affect a Pro Bowl vote, a poll running back Corey Dillon is the only Bengal to win the past two seasons. Anderson sees motivation in simply playing well enough and solid enough to start wiping out their image.

"If we get 22 guys on offense and defense thinking that way," Anderson said, "that will change the perception of the team."

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