9-23-02, 3:10 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
After watching his team lay what he called "a champion-sized egg," during Sunday night's national television embarrassment, Bengals President Mike Brown refused to finger head coach Dick LeBeau.
"It's all our faults," said Brown, who wouldn't discuss if he would consider a coaching change before the end of the season.
But he did respond positively to the notion that LeBeau could tap quarterback Akili Smith to start Sunday against Tampa Bay in a bid to revive a passing game that Brown called "a failure," Monday afternoon
"It's Dick's call on the quarterback," said Brown, who noted that Gus Frerotte and Jon Kitna have struggled. "Our two guys are at the bottom of the rankings and that's a reflection of how it's gone for them. An accurate reflection. It's not all their fault. We haven't had good protection, we haven't had good routes. A lot of balls have been dropped. It is the one area that has failed and we have to do something so we can throw the ball to give us a chance."
That sounds like a move to Smith, the athletic first-round pick from 1999 who has started two games since being benched Nov. 13, 2000. Brown
is convinced the defense is good enough to win if it gets help from an offense that has scored just one touchdown in three games.
"We've got a NFL defense," Brown said. "If we can just go out there and get some first downs and score some points so our defense doesn't get worn down. There are some good things on offense. Corey (Dillon) is obviously running well and hard."
The perception is that the Bengals have much more talent and experience than when Bruce Coslet's 2000 team started 0-3 by getting lit up, 74-7. When asked if it's a coaching issue instead of a talent issue after this 84-16 start, Brown summoned a quote from President John F. Kennedy after another disaster that wasn't seen by as many people.
"Victory has a million fathers and defeat is an orphan," is a paraphrase of what Kennedy is to have said after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961.
"That's kind of how we feel down here now," Brown said. "When the thing isn't going well, it's one of those, 'Well, it can't be my fault. . .' It's all our faults."
Brown continues to evaluate how his club operates the football side after the third 0-3 start since 1999. But he won't discuss his conclusions and he apparently isn't ready this week to give the populace LeBeau's head or that of his title as team president.
"It's a sad thing for all of us," said Brown of the national scope of the 30-3 loss to the Falcons in the club's return to prime time after a four-year hiatus. "There is no one down here who doesn't feel the stress of what happened. We laid a champion-sized egg and that is how we feel. But we can't let it affect how we go from here and what we have to do to correct it."