9-4-02, 6:05 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Welcome to the NFL regular-season opener, where trends are started and tones are set. And the Bengals' opener Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium is about style as much as substance.
Head coach Dick LeBeau offered some magic numbers Wednesday. The goal is the playoffs and that means 10 wins, maybe 11.
But first they have to beat a Chargers' team that had the Bengals' number last year in San Diego while they danced to a 28-14 victory that featured linebacker Junior Seau and safety Rodney Harrison laying more leather than Rawlings.
"We were mad the way it happened," said linebacker Adrian Ross. "We had just done the same thing to Baltimore and that's how we're supposed to be. Physical. I don't know if we were cocky or what, but they ended up doing it to us."
The Bengals remember the dancing. And if they didn't, the Chargers have reminded them via the bulletin board how thoroughly they dominated Cincinnati while running back LaDainian Tomlinson charged to 107 yards. And the coaches have reminded them that the Chargers have reminded them.
"We had them rattled, I think," Chargers cornerback Ryan McNeil
told "The San Diego Union-Tribune," earlier this week. "You probably couldn't see it, but you felt it. It didn't really matter what they were doing or how they did it, it was all about us. We were on fire. We felt that nothing they could do would work on us. Everybody was feeding off each other"
Not that the Bengals blame the Chargers for dancing. "They made the big plays, they should have got excited. It's on us to stop it," Anderson said.
Neal just doesn't want to have to keep hearing about it a year after the fact, and he says that has nothing to do with the Chargers and everything to do with the Bengals.
"You don't want people to say that about your team. It's a reflection of me," Neal said. "I hate losing, too. Please don't tell me, 'I just beat you up.' And that's why we need to respond. Not because of what they said. But we have to respond because of pride, because it's the opening game, and because this is the NFL and those guys get paid, too."
Since LeBeau took command 29 games ago, he has sought a "look," of toughness, resilience, poise, and execution. The only look the Bengals had in San Diego was dazed, and he has pounded it home this week that they have to hit back.
"We can't come out (like last year). Lackadaisical and just hanging around and thinking we're 2-0-and things are going to go right," Anderson said.
"You could tell by looking in the eyes of some guys at certain positions that (the Chargers) just took everything out of them," Anderson said. "They've got great players on defense. Marcellus Wiley is one the top or three ends. Junior is one of the top two or three linebackers, and Harrison is one of the top two or three safeties. We have to come out and match their energy level."
Receiver Chad Johnson, playing in his third NFL game that day, saw fellow receiver Darnay Scott jawing with Harrison after the game's first play.
After the second play, Scott got into it with Seau and the game was afoot. Johnson said that didn't take the receivers out of their game. But it might be a good thing, at least on Sunday, that Scott is a former Bengal.
"He tried cutting me down the field, running into me late," Harrison told "The Tribune." "I play at a certain level anyway, but when something like that happens and a guy's coming at your livelihood, that really takes it to another level. You don't care what you do, you just try to hit people."
The defense chalked up Tomlinson's big day to misalignments and missed assignments rather than getting outslugged after middle linebacker Brian Simmons looked at film.
"Look at the tape and they were in the right spots and we weren't," Simmons said. "That's my opinion, but everybody's got an opinion."
Defensive tackle Oliver Gibson shares the opinion.
"We gave up the ghost in the running game in three games last year and it was against San Diego, Pittsburgh and Chicago," Gibson said. "That still sticks in my craw. Tomlinson is a good back. They exploited our gaps.
"I don't think about Seau and Harrison," Gibson said. "They're great players and Harrison had a great game and had some big hits. But to be honest, it was 7-7 at halftime and we stopped executing."