Food for encouragement

9-21-03, 12:50 p.m.

Bengaldom, as Sam Wyche used to say, is up in the bit. P>The Oakland outing has the faithful confident that a turnaround looks to be looming and they are heartened by the strong defensive effort that blanketed the NFL's best passing game last season. Yes, the Raiders didn't have Jerry Porter, and Rich Gannon looked like was 47, but think what would have been given up last year on a secondary that allowed 12 touchdown passes 20 yards or longer.

But along with the encouragement is concern about the offense, ranging from the inability to score to the playcalling, to, of course, the quarterbacks.

The Steeler Week version of Hobson's Choice:

**If last weekend's game against the Raiders proved anything, it was that these are not the same Bengals we are used to watching/listening to. I listened to almost the entire game last Sunday on the Internet and was on the edge of my seat the whole time. The sense that I got throughout that game was that the Raiders' Defense was overmatched by the Bengal Offense, and the stats bore that out. Had this game been played at Paul Brown Stadium, it would have most certainly been a win.

Another thing that I saw from this game was that the Bengals do not quit anymore. They don't head for the showers in the third quarter when they are down. They certainly were not outplayed, except for the critical area of special teams. That seems to be the fly in the ointment now and one gets the feeling that if that bug gets ironed out, which it seems to be getting better, then this team is on the verge of greatness.

This weekend's game against the Steelers and next week's against the Browns will bare that out. I really believe that the Bengals will beat the Steelers at home, and then smash the Browns (I haven't had this much confidence in a Bengals team's ability to beat the Steelers in many years). Suddenly, this team will be 2 - 2 and talking about that unspoken word in Bengal-land, the playoffs. It is not out of this team's reach.

But they must prove it on the field of battle. I urge everyone who can to attend this upcomming game against the Steelers so we can rock their world and show ESPN that these are not the same old Bengals. I can't wait to see the look on the football world's collective faces when they see the final score on Sunday. Sincerely, John, Killeen, Texas.**

JOHN: If the team has as much confidence as you, they should be OK Sunday. Their lack of confidence has been a big reason for the poor record down through the years, particularly in the Groundhog Day stretch of the past five. But the Oakland game should give them the mental boost.

Be careful of that playoff talk. The Bengals who were here in 2001 are still kicking themselves for talking about the playoffs when they were 2-0, 3-2, 4-3, and ended up losing seven straight. **

What the hell was Marvin Lewis thinking ,having Kitna throwing the ball, when they should have been running the ball with just under 4 minutes left.Run the clock down still trying to get a 1st down.The worst that would,ve happened would of been a three point lead,with two minutes left.I just don't think Lewis would have liked that call at all, if he were still Defence cordinator. A true Bengal fan Ernie.**

ERNIE: It's funny how things change when you become a head coach, isn't it? But we'll defend offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski for that call on a couple of fronts.

It was second-and-nine from the Raider 20 with 3:58 left in a 13-13 game and he didn't have a healthy Corey Dillon he could just smash in there.

And, even though the Bengals had shut them down, they were still facing an offense that was ranked No. 1 in the NFL last year and can score a touchdown in a hurry, so a field goal wasn't all that appealing. In the end, it did take the Raiders just 72 seconds to go 55 yards for the winning field goal.

Plus, why not give Chad Johnson a shot? He's been your best player all day, the slant has worked all day, and cornerback Phillip Buchanon has played off him all day. If it doesn't go, run on third down, then kick the field goal. Just imagine if they got beat 20-17 if they opted to play it safe.

One lesson, though hopefully came out of it.

Shorten the game, milk the clock, stay close, and anything can happen in the NFL because it usually does.

I watched the game against the Oakland Raiders where the refs made 2 bad calls. On the replay it clearly showed the refs were in the wrong but Marvin could not challenge the calls because the whistle had already blown. I am curious as to what, if anything, the NFL plans to do about these bad calls that could cost teams the game? Will they allow any play to be challenged? Kat, Lufkin, TX.

KAT: The NFL doesn't seem real excited about changing anything to do with the whistle because that opens up all kinds of problems, but, you're right, you have to be able to fix something as obscenely clear as that first-quarter fumble. If that play involved a New York team in the playoffs, it would have been on "Nightline," all week.

All Lewis can do is what he probably did. Send the tape and the complaint to the league like all head coaches do after every game on the handful of calls they question. And the NFL probably already responded by saying, "You're right. We were wrong. Sorry."

**Hey I am sorry, but John Kitna is a premeir back-up, not a starter in the NFL. These are some facts that simply do not lie: too small of hands, too short in height, weak arm, fumble prone, and inconsistency under pressure. No matter how big a heart he has or attitude, he simply does not have the make-up of an NFL starter in this day and age. The game has evolved past his physical ability.

He has always been fumble prone, had countless balls batted down, a poor scrambler out of the pocket, and an average TD/Interception ratio. Low QB rating. He may read defenses better and faster than Matthews and Palmer, and he may be more adverse with the play calling of bartkowskis offense; But I can guarentee this team has a much better chance to win starting Matthews. Kitna is a franchise back-up QB because of his experience and staying injury free. Palmer needs another year to learn playbook and NFL defenses and speed of the game and should be the starter in 2005.

The ability to see the whole feild over the defensive line is priceless, bigger hands mean less turnovers. The talent we have at wide reciever will be exploited more if they are seen better which transcends into points. Can we continue wishing for more production from a man who just simply doesn't measure up anymore to todays game ??? Start Matthews salvage the season and let Kitna, with all that experience of the offensive scheme, groom Palmer. Thank you, Tom H. A lifetime Bengals fan !!!**

TOM: All that said, Kitna played well enough to win Sunday at a place where few 6-4, 220-pound QBs with rocket arms win. Granted, he's not going to be the league MVP, but when it comes to playing quarterback in the NFL, heart, attitude, and the ability to read defenses are as important as the physical skills you list.

Lewis knows Matthews is there and he won't be afraid to use him. But in his attempt to revive a franchise that has suffered in large part to its hair-trigger decisions at quarterback, don't look for him to start a Merry-Go-Round he knows is going to stop at Palmer no matter what happens. **

I've been a fan for a long time and just want thank think the team for playing Sunday; and they played. I'm surround by Cleveland Brownies ( their true logo) not Dogs and the couldn't Dog me Sunday. Show the world that the team has HEART, win 10. Gunney, Dayton, OH.**

GUNNEY: Ten wins are going to be a tough nut with four of the last six games on the road. But the regular-season finale is at home against Cleveland, and how big is next Sunday's game in Cleveland right now? Both could be looking for their first victory, or the Bengals could be looking for back-to-back division victories for the first time since they ended the 2001 season with wins over Pittsburgh and Tennessee. **

Mr. Hobson: Have you any speculation or insight why we have not seen Jeremi Johnson run the ball yet. I remember how Pete Johnson would literally beat up defenses years ago. I thought with Dillon out Sunday and Bennett struggling to 43 yards on 19 carries that maybe Johnson would get some touches.

I am with what may be the minority when I confess that I realize that major changes may not happen over night. But they are occuring. For the first time in a long time Sunday I was frustrated. But for different reasons then normal. Normally losing by 10 or less is a good day. I was actually upset they lost. I felt they should have won it. It is turning around. The people must be patient with Coach Lewis.

I believe Sunday will be Coach Lewis first victory with a win over Pittsburgh. The future starts this Sunday. Michael, Williamsport, Pa. A Bengals fan for about 30 years.**

MICHAEL: Thank you for your kind words at the end of your e-mail. They appear to be looking at Johnson right now as a pass catcher, blocker, and short-yardage back. He certainly showed at Western Kentucky he can help you running the ball, but right now that looks to be low on their priority list with him. He might not evolve into a Pete Johnson kind of back, but he could be a nice change-of-pace guy for eight-to-10 carries.

Maybe the least patient guy in the whole mix is Lewis. Note Sunday's benching of Chad Johnson. The urgency appears to be there more than ever.

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