11-30-01, 10:25 p.m
BY GEOFF HOBSON
There are a dozen Bengals left who were active for that game.
It's simply known as the, "This Is It Game." And they hope to high heaven they never experience anything close to it again.
The last time Tampa Bay's Buccaneers played in Cincinnati was probably the lowest point in Bengals' history that season finale of Dec. 27, 1998.
The Bucs took home their first road shutout ever, 35-0, ending the Bengals' dreadful 3-13 season that actually started 2-3. The team's best player, wide receiver Carl Pickens, provided the soundtrack by bounding into the locker room and free agency singing the Kenny Loggins' hit from the '80s, "This Is It."
Coach Bruce Coslet later admitted Pickens quit on them during the game. And some of the 12 will tell you it just wasn't Pickens.
"It was on both sides (of the ball) at 35-0," said middle linebacker Brian Simmons. "I'm sure you had some guys who were just glad the season was over with and that was part of the problem. We had some guys like that."
"Some guys showed up at the game with U-Hauls packed," said defensive captain Takeo Spikes. "To me, that game doesn't count. But I think pretty much there's no one left from that group. It's not the same attitude."
With three straight punchless losses and a noisy quarterback change at the beginning of the week, the "same-old-Bengals" rumblings are beginning a stampede that makes some wonder if a '98-like unraveling is on the horizon. But the survivors dispute it loudly.
"I don't think so. I would hope not. I don't see it getting like that at all," said running back Corey Dillon. "It would be uncivilized to let something like that happen after we've worked so hard to get back to where we're in some kind of position."
Spikes: "I don't even want to think about that game." Tight end Tony McGee: "What's the point?" But they remember like Dillon because it hurts.
"I can tell you my numbers," Dillon said. "Fourteen for 70. One
(catch) for 50. Look it up. It's a hard game to forget."
Dillon pretty much hit it. He had 70 yards on 14 carries, but he caught three balls for 51, one of which was a 41-yarder.
"We didn't show up," said cornerback Artrell Hawkins of the game that ended his rookie season. "I remember there was something about Carl Pickens not playing hard. Guys were already packed and on the plane back home. They didn't get our best.
"This is a much different team," Hawkins said. "In other years after 10 games, we were just going through the motions. We still wanted to win, but there was no spirit. There was a dead spirit floating around. This year is still different because we had success early and I think we know we can compete with everyone and that hasn't been the case in the past."
The 12 aren't the only ones who have a bad taste from the last time they played. Exactly two years and two days ago (Nov. 28 1999), the Bucs went to Seattle and picked off Seahawks quarterback Jon Kitna five times in Tampa Bay's 16-3 victory.
"I was young and dumb then," said Kitna, now the Bengals quarterback who was in his first full season as a NFL starter. "I just didn't get it then. We were 8-2 and riding high and they just buried us. I didn't understand. You've got to be patient against a great defense like that. If you try to force it, they make you pay. Take a punt and live to try another series."
The old Bengals think they have also learned something from the bad old days.
"Even though the media, whatever, still talks bad about us, we're in every game," Hawkins said. "We don't have that (here-we-go-again feeling) in here. My friend called me and said, 'Yeah, that's the Bengals I know and love.' You're going to have that, but you can't pay attention to it. It's not over yet and we know that."
Or, as Simmons said, "I don't think it's going to get like that. We're not in the best predicament in the league, but all we have to do is win these next two at home and we're back in it. We just have to play like we did earlier."