BY GEOFF HOBSON
If you were making a movie about the NFL, Bengals left tackle John Jackson would come right out of central casting as the aging sage with the championship ring who has seen it all.
Sunday's ugly 35-3 loss to Tennessee in a nightmarish 3-11 season didn't have Jackson thinking about making a movie. But the frustration in his first year as a Bengal had him thinking about writing a book.
"If I wrote a book, this team would probably have a whole half of a book instead of one chapter," said Jackson, at 35 the oldest player on a twentysomething team.
"Guys have to learn to respect each other before you can play with each other," Jackson said. "The way you fight through this is to be a professional. That's what these guys have to learn to do. You've got to be a professional. There's a game this week and it's a big one because it's the next one."
Jackson, one of three Bengals older than 30, is stunned at how some of his teammates didn't realize how big Sunday's game on the road against a team trying to clinch a playoff spot really was.
His advice to the kids?
"You better grow up," he said. "There's only so much coaches can do."
And he says it can't keep going this way.
"It's been really hard," said Jackson, trying to cope with the fourth losing season of his 13-year career. "I can see the guys have a lot of potential, but potential doesn't mean jack. We don't execute the way we're supposed to execute.
"What I always say is, 'I just work here,'" Jackson said. "I have to keep working through all this to keep from going insane. I'm surprised these guys aren't insane and I've been here for a year. Some of these guys have been here their whole career. You wonder why half the team isn't going to a psychologist."
It was a day to put the Bengals on the couch as the buzz wonders if they've thrown in the towel.
Strong safety Chris Carter was taken off the hook for not pursuing Tennessee fullback Lorenzo Neal on a fingertip catch for the Titans last touchdown because Cincinnati was in an all-out blitz.
But Jackson and quarterback Scott Mitchell, the only active Bengals born in the 1960s, still had some pointed observations about their team. And they are first-year Bengals who haven't started the bulk of the games.
( Defensive end Vaughn Booker is the other '60s guy, but he's on injured reserve).
"You have to have a good balance of older players who have been through it before," Mitchell said. "This is a funny business. It's not a round ball, so when it bounces on the ground, it bounces in all sorts of directions.
"The younger guys are going through this for the first time," Mitchell said. "They need those older guys who have been there, but you need the athletic, youthful, enthusiastic guys to give kind of a shot to the older guys."
Asked if there's enough older players on a Bengals' team that has six first or second-year wide receivers and five cornerbacks with less than four years experience, Mitchell smiled.
"There's only two of us," Mitchell said. "I don't know."
Mitchell said he's not pointing fingers at this club. But when he was on playoff teams in Miami and Detroit, there were always players getting in other players' faces to make sure focus was kept and games like this last Sunday rarely happened.
Jackson doesn't see it here.
"It all boils down to a lack of discipline as far as proper technique and being fundamentally tough," Jackson said.
He says coach Dick LeBeau has done a better job than anyone could imagine since taking over an 0-3 team from Bruce Coslet back on Sept. 24.
"He needs more . . .
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than 13 games to (change the attitude)," Jackson said. "I hope Dick gets the job. He's been put in a situation most guys probably wouldn't want to be in. But he's done a great job.
"There are some things he has to do in the offseason," Jackson said. "Guys aren't playing the way he wants them to play. It's Bruce's team. It's all the people Bruce put together. Dick doesn't have his own stamp on it. The philosophy has changed. He demands a certain way of doing things and just go from there. . .This thing has to be broken and the only way to do it is to become mentally tougher and go out and play your butt off."
Mitchell says teams need, "one or two," players to make sure it happens. Jackson looks at the Tennessee team dominating the AFC Central like his old Steelers used to do.
"They didn't give a damn who we were," Jackson said. "They saw a chance to rub it in our face in the fourth quarter. They were still throwing bombs. They did what any championship team would do when you get someone on the ground. You break their neck."