10-27-03, 3:45 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Here's a defense that last year didn't force a turnover in the first three games and just seven in the first seven games.
Now, here is a defense that forced eight turnovers in their last two games after using five of them to beat Seattle Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, 27-24. Here's a defense that made a lot right with the turnovers because they allowed 469 yards, a 6.7 per-play clip. Here's a defense that got an interception from linebacker Brian Simmons off a tipped pass and another interception when Simmons tipped a pass to cornerback Jeff Burris in a span of 3:53 in the fourth quarter after 13 years of tips seemingly ending up on the ground.
But now here is a defense (and an offense) that is perpetually bombard by head coach Marvin Lewis' Power Point presentations that show the power turnovers have in generating points, not to mention victories.
No, it wasn't Simmons who said he'd rather be lucky than good. But after being in the middle of half of the eight turnovers, he knows you have to be both to claim a NFL fumble or interception.
"I think you make your breaks," Simmons said. "We did good things with the defensive line getting pressure and getting their hands up. Creating your own breaks."
Or, as cornerback Artrell Hawkins said, "just playing hard with a little luck mixed in."
To make the turnover complete, the Bengals haven't turned it over in back-to-back games for the first time since Sept. 13-Oct. 11, 1998.
And now here is Simmons, who Lewis hasn't minded lighting up on more than one occasion, showing Lewis, yes, he can play in his system even if he is a holdover. Which doesn't always help in Lewiston.
"I ain't counting," said Simmons when ask how often Lewis has gone after him. I get my share, though. I think he spreads it around pretty good."
Throw in defensive tackle John Thornton's blocked 49-yard field goal with nine minutes left in the game and Seattle trying to take a 27-20 lead, and that was as good as a
turnover because the Bengals got the ball at their own 39 and scored the winning touchdown less than a minute later.
Thornton's play, which was more alertness than luck, puts him in the Bengals' media guide twice. He is now the last man to block a field goal for the Bengals, as well as for a Bengals' opponent, which he did three years ago playing for Tennessee. He ended the game with a recovered fumble when he scooped up the last of Seattle's desperate laterals.
"It comes from you knowing what you're supposed to do," Thornton said. "You get lucky. A whole lot of stuff in this league is luck. . .You get to where you're supposed to be and then hope the ball goes your way."
Things went Thornton's way when he blocked Brown's kick. He went to Bengals specials team coach Darrin Simmons after Brown hit a 27-yarder to tie the game at 17 as the first half ran out. With the tackle blocking down on end Duane Clemons, he barely looked at Thornton, much less block him.
"I wasn't supposed to rush. I was supposed to knock the guy out of there," Thornton said. "He barely blocked me. So I told Coach Simmons to run the same (look). I told someone I was going to block it before because I knew he's doing the same thing because they gave me the same look."
"It was easy. It was just a matter of me getting back there quick enough to get my hand up," Thornton said. "I jumped a little bit. I don't know how my vertical was. I knew I was going to block it once I got past the line because I got a good jump on it."
For the second straight week, Simmons got the game's first turnover by flat taking it out of someone's hands. This time it was wide receiver Darrell Jackson on the third play of the second quarter. Then in the fourth quarter he grabbed defensive tackle Oliver Gibson's tipped pass for an interception and 3:53 later, with just 1:46 left, he got his hands up high enough to tip quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's pass to Burris.
"It's a game of inches, and those guys (the defensive linemen) are always trying to get their hands up," Hasselbeck said. "Those guys made some good athletic plays today. I don't know what to say. Sometimes the ball bounces your way, and sometimes it doesn't. That hurt us a little bit today.
"I'll have to see it on film, but I just think it's one of those things that's going to happen from time to time — the ball's going to get tipped," Hasselbeck said. "I just give the defense credit for being aggressive and getting their hands up. Their defenders — they just happened to be in the right spots when the ball was coming down. You see it happen both ways."
Hasselbeck had yet to throw an interception in the fourth quarter before Sunday, and he came into the game with seven fourth-quarter comebacks in his 28 starts. But here's how Seattle's five series ended in the fourth quarter: A Justin Smith sack leading to a punt, Thornton blocked field goal, Simmons interception, Burris interception, Thornton fumble recovery.
"The biggest change for this defense is the offense is scoring points," Hawkins said. "We were on the field for just one series in the third quarter. That helps. This is championship ball. I'm not saying we're champions, but this is how a team competing for a championship is supposed to look like. You make some plays when it counts, and then we had a little bit of luck on the side. The tips and things like that are lucky, but the tips don't show up in the stats."
Simmons can feel the confidence even if they did give up 24 points in the first 34 minutes.
"We think we can and that's because we're playing with confidence," Simmons said. "I think we might be fooling ourselves, but that's OK because we're just playing with a lot of confidence. We've still got a long way to go. We can still get a lot better."