Chad sad despite numbers

12-16-02, 6:15 a.m. Updated:
12-16-02, 8:30 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson came within nine yards Sunday of tying the Bengals' record of five 100-yard receiving games and four yards of becoming their first 1,000-yard receiver in three years, and he was fuming at himself.

He thought he played so badly, he wanted to apologize to Bengals President Mike Brown right after the game, but he didn't get the chance in the hub-bub of the locker room.

"I played a bleep-bleep game and make sure you put down I cussed," Johnson told the media after the 29-15 loss to the Jaguars. "(Jon) Kitna is saying he didn't play his best game. No, no. It's my fault. Those are the big plays I need to make. One in the end zone.

One on third down. Those are the situations where I keep us moving. I kind of put that weight on my shoulders, to be that go-to-guy you all talk about."

Johnson saw Kitna about a half-hour after the game and gave him an exasperated look. Again, he spent much of the day double covered. This time by a team that hadn't shown much of that all year.

"Why me?" Johnson asked Kitna. "I'm nothing spectacular."

Kitna shook his head.

"Getting 1,000 yards in ten games is spectacular," Kitna assured him.

Sunday was the 10th game since Kitna became the starter and Johnson began his go-to emergence. He has caught 918 yards since then and now has 59 catches for 996 yards, a 16.9-yard average. If he keeps at this pace, he'll be the first Bengal receiver since Tim McGee in 1989 to have more than 60 catches along with at least 16 yards per catch.

"Ever since the Indy game, I've been just trying to improve each game and this game was a setback for me," Johnson said. "Even though I did some positive things, I took a step back."

Johnson was talking about technical matters with Kitna, what he called the "formation of the routes." He thought he had a shot to catch a touchdown late in the game in the end zone, but said he didn't time up the route with fellow receiver Ron Dugans.

"It's the same thing, I'm double covered all game," Johnson said. "It's frustrating because I'm looking at the (Jacksonville) film, looking at them play everybody man-to-man, one on one. Then they play us and they use a double team."

The one obvious time Johnson did get singled up, he won a fight for the ball with cornerback Jason Craft down the middle of the field for their longest play of the day, a 44-yarder that came at a huge moment early in the second quarter. It was the first play after Jacksonville had taken a 14-3 lead.

Johnson won't be impressed next week against New Orleans when he gets his 1,000 yards. He remembers how he shuffled in and out of the lineup with the rest of the receivers for the first four games of the season.

"The average receiver coming out of college can get 1,000 yards," Johnson said. "1,500, 1,300, now you're talking. The merry-go-round with the receivers in and out at the beginning of the season really threw off my chances to get those type of numbers."

**

SLANTS AND SCREENS:** For the first time since the Oct. 20 bye week, Kitna didn't throw a touchdown pass Sunday. It was also just the second time in the last eight games he had more interceptions (1) than touchdowns (0) and first since having 2 and 3 in Baltimore Nov. 10. The 235 net passing yards is their lowest since Oct. 27 against Tennessee and the 300 total yards is just the second lowest of Kitna's 10 starts. . .

The Bengals have now allowed 416 points with two games left, with only the teams from 1999 (460), 1998 (452), 1985 (437), 1991 (435), and 1979 (421) that have allowed more in 16 games. . .

Neil Rackers continues to be superb. He cranked his second 50-yard field goal of the season from 51 (complete with a few leaps off the field), and added kicks from 18 and 25 yards for his first three field-goal game since last year's finale and has made 11 of his last 12. . .

CB Artrell Hawkins (thigh) and WR Peter Warrick (bruised lungs) missed Sunday's game and are questionable for next Sunday's game. So are players hurt against the Jags, such as DE Bernard Whittington (groin), FS Cory Hall (shoulder) and CB LaVar Glover (questionable). . . **

DEAD ZONE:** If you go by body language, you have to assume Bengals running back Corey Dillon would have been surprised to know that before Sunday's game, he was one of the NFL leaders on third-and-one, converting 10 of his 11 tries. He was one for two Sunday, but he couldn't get into the end zone on third-and-one in the second quarter, which means his two misses this year have been from the goal line as the Bengals' running game continues to struggle to gain any kind of important yardage.

Is Dillon about to explode? He had no comment again after his fifth straight sub 100-yard game. But after his tough 21 carries with little room at all, he had more head shakes than yards, which ended up at 59. And when he ripped off a few runs over five yards in the second half, he got up shaking his fist and flexing. He now has 1,132 yards, which marks the sixth time he's gone over 1,100 yards in his career, but the running game is in shambles at the goal line. On first and goal from the 1 with seven minutes left in the game, they even opted

to try a rollout pass that ignited an ugly penalty-laden sequence that backed them up. And when Dillon got stopped on third-and-one for a loss of a yard, Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau escaped with an 18-yard field goal. There were indications the Bengals ran Dillon on the same play he got stopped on fourth-and one against Tennessee on Oct. 27 with 1:08 left as he went behind pulling left guard Matt O'Dwyer. But apparently the Jaguars had a run blitz on and middle linebacker Wali Rainer dropped Dillon for a one-yard loss.

As quarterback Jon Kitna observed, "The closer we get, the harder it is."

This game was decided in the red zone. The Jaguars scored touchdowns all three times they were inside. The Bengals could get just one in four tries, and that was on Kitna's five-yard quarterback draw that has become their goal-line staple. It was his career-high third touchdown of the season.

But the Bengals' touchdown percentage in the red zone is going to take another hit. It was already next to last in the AFC at 45.5 and is now 43.2. Their inability to punch it in could also reflect a certain lack of attention to detail. Wide receiver Chad Johnson said, "It's the NFL. You get packed in like that with all the speed and strength, you have to be technique perfect."

Kitna thinks once the Bengals get inside the 10, they may have to experiment.

"We can't run it in, we can't throw it in. We're having problems. We're having to call quarterback draws to get it in. We just need to be a little more creative down there," Kitna said. "I don't know. You have to somehow present some problems for them on defense. You can't just allow them to line up and play their standard red-zone coverage, which is a lot of times dropping seven or eight guys into a 15-yard area which makes windows (small)."

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