11-17-02, 10:20 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The pain and frustration raged up and down the TV screen after another if-you-think-you've-seen-everything-loss to the Browns Sunday.
There were Chad Johnson's tears. Corey Dillon's sideline vent to running backs coach Jim Anderson. Jon Kitna's pleading arms outstretched to the official.
The loss, the season, the decade were summed up on third-and-goal and fourth-and-goal with six minutes left in the 27-20 loss, the first time the Baby Browns have swept the Bengals in a season since they returned to the NFL in 1999.
For the second straight home game, Dillon, the Bengals' best player, couldn't score from the opponents' 1-yard line with the game on the line in the last minutes. On third and fourth-down in a bid to tie the game at 27 in front of a sold-out crowd, Dillon got stopped on plunges to the right side.
On third down, Browns inside linebacker Earl Holmes came from nowhere and grabbed Dillon's ankle before he could walk in standing up behind fullback Lorenzo Neal. On fourth down, on the same play, it looked like Neal ended up taking on Holmes and linebacker Darren Hambrick in a two-on-one that the two won.
That's what it looked like. But nobody was saying. They either had to wait and see the films Monday, or they plain didn't know what happened.
"Everybody made their blocks," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "What happened? I don't know."
But one thing was for sure Sunday. Dillon had to do a lot of amazing things on his own to get many of his 92 yards on 19 carries because the Browns loaded up a hefty diet of eight-man fronts. And those goal-line plays were no different. Dillon was a marked man. "It was just 11 guys getting to the ball. Everybody knew that Corey was their go-to guy. We knew he would get the ball," Holmes said.
Unlike against Tennessee three weeks ago, the Bengals didn't pull left guard Matt O'Dwyer to the right, the play on which O'Dwyer slipped and stopped Dillon from scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 1:08 left in the game. This time, they pulled right guard Mike Goff on a kick-out block and tried to go wide off the tight end.
"I don't understand it. It was a good play," Goff said. "It's frustrating. Everyone in here is extremely frustrated."
Unlike the Tennessee game, Dillon refused to talk Sunday and didn't give his perspective of the play, or his fairly animated conversation with Jim Anderson after the series. He sat at his locker for several minutes silently while his teammates refused to point the finger at offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's calls, the line's blocks, or Dillon's reads.
"Why point fingers? It doesn't matter," Neal said. "If I had to do it over again, I'd give the ball to 28 (Dillon) again, The dude is one of the best backs in this league, if not the best. Guys make mistakes, whether it's 28 making a mistake, whether it's 41(Neal) making a mistake. If I make a mistake, I think I'm the best fullback in the league. I think 28 is the best tailback in the league. I think Willie is one (of the best tackles in the league). But you've got to think positive. They got us. They hit us in the mouth. They stopped us."
But the failure didn't start or stop there and a miffed Jon Kitna took notice.
"The mistakes that we make should never happen at this stage in the season," Kitna said. "If it was the first or second week of the preseason, I would understand. But not in Week 10
of an NFL season.
"I'm not going to sit up here and single people out," said Kitna of the miscues. "Just a lot of things — things that shouldn't happen out there; (just) trying to win a football game. We can't make the mistakes that we make. You shouldn't have to play a perfect game in this league to win. That's a rarity. Houston was an exception. It seems that if we don't play a perfect game, we can't win."
There was wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh failing to call for a fair catch and fumbling away a punt in Browns' territory with 3:43 left in the game. There was a holding on rookie left tackle Levi Jones with the Bengals backed up on their own 14 early in the fourth quarter.
Kitna, who had a passer rating better than 90 for the third game in four weeks with no interceptions, a touchdown, and 258 yards for 96.2, took part in a harried hurry-up offense with 1:41 left in the game and no timeouts left. He hooked up on a 14-yard pass to Dillon, but when Dillon couldn't get out of bounds and tried to make a play up field, it cost about 20 seconds off the clock. Kitna looked to make a bad decision when he dumped the next pass four yards over the middle to Dillon, far away from out –of-bounds.
The Bengals didn't have one of their timeouts because head coach Dick LeBeau lost it on a challenge early in the fourth quarter on a third-and-four play from the Browns 14. Kitna threw a low ball to wide receiver Ron Dugans for a first down and it was called incomplete on the field. Even though the replay was unclear about a trap, LeBeau challenged anyway to back up his players.
"One of our players said they caught the ball and I will always defend my players," LeBeau said. "I knew it would be a tough call. I knew it would be a close game where we would need every timeout. We had some opportunities to get out of bounds and we didn't. The players thought they could get up field faster than they did and we just ran out of time."
But the Bengals also felt the officials made several mistakes and are chalking it up to their Charlie Brown reputation. Linebacker Adrian Ross, whose interference penalty on Browns punt returner Dennis Northcutt cost the Bengals a fumble recovery at their own 44 with 10 minutes left, called it "horrible." He said on the Bengals' last series that Browns defensive end Mark Word jumped offsides twice right in front of an official.
Kitna was enraged with about four minutes left in the first half when he thought Browns cornerback Anthony Henry clearly tugged on wide receiver Chad Johnson on a third-and-one bomb that would have given the Bengals a first down at about the Browns 20. When the ref told Kitna he missed the call because he tweaked his hamstring, it made Kitna even madder.
"He told me that he didn't see the call because he hurt himself," Kitna said. "I know there are six other officials out there. That was just a blown call."
Kitna alluded to the Ross play as one of those that happens "because we're us."
"If that had happened the opposite (way)," Kitna said, "they (wouldn't) have called that."