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Blunders show why 0-2

9-15-02, 10:20 p.m.


CLEVELAND _ To say the Bengals made strides here Sunday is a left-handed compliment.

Last Sunday, the Bengals got outmuscled. This Sunday, they got outexecuted on two plays that could have changed the game for them, but are instead headed for NFL Films' "21st Century Bloopers."

"We don't even give ourselves a chance," said one veteran after the game. "The disappointing thing is the lack of execution."

With 45 seconds left in the first half and the Bengals on the Browns 17, quarterback Gus Frerotte made the kind of inexplicable mistake on third-and-five that got Jon Kitna bounced to second string when he made a10-point interception. Instead of trailing, 10-3, at halftime, they were down, 17-0, when the dust cleared from defensive end Kenard Lang's 71-yard ramble off Frerotte's opposite hand heave while in the clutches of Browns tackle Orpheus Roye.

Earlier in the game, Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau's bid to seize field position literally went through his hands when kicker Neil Rackers muffed the direct snap for a pooch punt from the Browns 41 out of field-goal formation.

"I didn't want to take the sack and didn't want to run time off the clock," Frerotte said of his blunder. "The guy

turned me right when I was throwing it, and the ball came back. Kenard was in the right place at the right time. Instead of him rushing up the field around the end, he comes inside and gets bounced out behind everybody and I didn't see anybody there, so I was just trying to get rid of it."

Frerotte has tried to go lefty before, but only while he had been pulled to the ground. This time he was standing straight up and just trying to get it to the line of scrimmage and in the direction of wide receiver Michael Westbrook so he wouldn't be called for intentional grounding.

"As long as you throw it toward him," Frerotte said, "I don't think they can call it intentional grounding."

But they can call it a blooper because he didn't see Lang hanging out at the 21-yard line. The two met 71 yards later when Frerotte dove to stop him at the Bengals 8, but it took the Browns just two plays to score on wide receiver Kevin Johnson's eight-yard touchdown catch.

"I saw the end zone and at first I felt like Carl Lewis," Lang said. "Then I felt like the Pillsbury Dough Boy."

What made the play was Roye beating left guard Matt O'Dwyer on the bull rush. The guards had a tough day, as did left tackle Richmond Webb.

Backup right end Mark Word, playing for the injured Courtney Brown, had three sacks. One of them came when Frerotte couldn't step up in the pocket because tackle Gerard Warren backed up right guard Mike Goff into Frerotte for a nine-yard loss that took the Bengals out of field-goal territory on the second series of a 3-0 game.

"We've got to get points out of that situation," said Frerotte of his miscue. "If you get sacked, the clock runs down. . .it's a tough deal."

On the other big play, LeBeau sparked some more controversy that is left over from last year. He wouldn't let Rackers try to tie the game at 3 on a 51-yarder after he made a career-long 54-yarder in the opener last week. He instead opted for "Purple Punt," out of field-goal formation.

"I got everything I wanted," LeBeau said. "I had them all drawn up on the line of scrimmage and nobody back. There's a safety (and the chance) to kick it inside the 10-yard line. . .They got more out of the plays they made than we got out of the plays that we made."

Rackers mishandled the direct snap and could only get off a sideways punt that lost two yards and ended up at the Browns 35. The Bengals' defense held, yet when they got the ball back they were all the way back on their own 24.

"We ended up giving them the ball about where they would have had it if we had gone for the first down or tried the field goal and missed," LeBeau said.

But as it has gone at every turn in this young season, the execution turned out worse than the call.

"The call is OK," said a veteran, "but we screwed it up again."

As Lang said when asked about the quarterback stopping him from scoring a touchdown, ""I couldn't say anything to him. He had already given me a present, so I just told him thank you."

The only thing the Bengals didn't do for the Browns Sunday was wrap it. Which is why they're 0-2.

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