Did overconfidence breed 'nightmare'?

9-9-02, 6:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Publicly, Mike Brown exuded patience. But those who met with him Monday said they saw a seething Bengals president the day after his team suffered its worst defeat ever in a home opener.

"We fought to regain the confidence of our fans and the way we played Sunday just shatters that confidence," Brown said Monday. "It will take us time to regain it and get it back. It's a sharp disappointment.

"We just had an incredibly inept day and I don't know how to say it otherwise," Brown said. "It shakes your confidence. It was pretty much a nightmare come true. But it's one game and we have to move on to the rest of the schedule. I think we can get a hold of it."

Brown no doubt expressed his disappointment to head coach Dick LeBeau and his staff during the weekly review of the game film Monday morning. Which couldn't have been a very pleasant 65th birthday party for LeBeau. As LeBeau got scorched by the knights of the keyboard and talk show masters Monday for taking what they believe to be an ill-prepared team out of training camp, he reiterated his desire to make personnel changes for Sunday's game in Cleveland.

He also told the players in Monday's meeting they can expect more conditioning, and he indicated to the media he may change up practice a bit.

LeBeau wouldn't get into personnel specifics and he still has to spend Monday night and Tuesday taking to his staff. But he's not pleased with a defense that allowed 401 yards and is still seven spots from the bottom of the NFL rankings.

One move he can make is replace left outside linebacker Canute Curtis with Adrian Ross, or change up his safeties. LeBeau could revert to last year's lineup

and move strong safety Cory Hall to free in place of Mark Roman and put JoJuan Armour at strong. Curtis looked to have some problems on pass coverage in a game he bruised his knee and is questionable for Sunday.

One thing is certain. If Sunday's game shook the confidence of management, it plain shook the players, many who now believe the club has been too confident coming into what is supposed to be their break-out season.

LeBeau is believed to be in the last year of his contract, but while the clock has officially started on the watch, the players seek the blame for this one.

"We came in with fat heads and we haven't done anything yet," said fullback Lorenzo Neal. "Don't question the system. Question the players. As players, we have to stop questioning the coaches. Our fans are hungry and they want see this team win. And we disappointed them. If I was a fan. I'd be disappointed."

Although defensive coordinator Mark Duffner handed his players a blank sheet of paper to put in their playbooks Saturday night to represent they are starting from scratch, some players don't think the unit as a whole bought into it.

"We're not a good enough defense to make a lot of mistakes and still win," said defensive tackle Oliver Gibson. "I'm encouraged that we didn't get blown off the ball. We were in the wrong gaps, and that can be fixed. I think we found out that if you don't pay attention to detail, you can still have problems no matter how good you are."

After the game, middle linebacker Brian Simmons said he thought the unit played like a return to the NFL's top ten defensive rankings (No. 9) would be automatic. On Monday, cornerback Artrell Hawkins agreed.

"We've got to start talking with our actions instead of with our mouths," Hawkins said. "If you focus on the praise of being ninth, instead of how you got there, that can be trouble. You can walk the swagger and talk the swagger, but you have to walk the walk and talk the talk."

The defense kept coming back to their two worst games of last season, when they gave up 200-yard rushing games in 14 days to Pittsburgh and Chicago and how it got straightened out for the last 10 games

"If it had to happen," Hawkins said, "I'm glad it happened in week one."

Duffner said it was a question of misalignments, and bad adjustments, and not talent.

"It was fouled up," Duffner said. "And we're going to unfoul it up."

Brown thinks they can.

"To have that happen to you where they just ran everything past us," Brown said, "It has to be something technical with the defense. That can be fixed and they will work to fix it."

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