11-11-01, 11:55 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. _ Usually the Bengals wait a week to show the bad and the ugly after they look so good.
But during Sunday's 30-13 loss here to the Jaguars, they wasted no time. They watched the powerful 13-7 half-time lead they built with a 7:48 edge in time of possession and a 123-yard lead in total offense get destroyed in the first 14:14 of the second half during the Jags' 21-0 blitz.
"We," said right tackle Willie Anderson, "have to figure out what happened in the second half."
What seemed to happen is the Jaguars made some adjustments against the Bengals' defense and the Bengals never did really adjust to a Jaguars' defense schemed by former Cincinnati tight ends coach Gary Moeller.
With Bengals defensive ends Justin Smith and Reinard Wilson continually putting pressure on quarterback Mark Brunell in the first half, Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins said the Jags came out in the second half with quicker routes with fewer receivers. That allowed them to keep in a back, or a tight end, or sometimes both to block.
Brunell responded by hitting his first 10 passes after halftime, the longest of which was his 10th, a 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Keenan McCardell that made it 28-13 with 46 seconds left in the third quarter and the Jags' five-game losing streak a memory.
On the other side of the ball, Moeller had to be laughing at the critics, which include his own players and owner. They have been ripping his soft coverages. But Moeller ended up playing even softer Sunday by calling off most of his blitzes.
"A lot of it goes back to coverage," said Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna. "They did a good job with some of (our) routes and I held the ball a little too long today. They had been blitzing one guy and voiding the zone. (But) today, they filled the zone with seven guys. They almost played softer than they have. That, in essence, worked better for them. Instead of getting more aggressive, they played softer."
The scheme yielded the Bengals' first 300-yard passing game since Jeff Blake threw for 334 yards against the 49ers 27 games ago in 1999. But Kitna's career-high 28 completions (out of a career-high 48 passes) averaged out to just 10.8 per throw for 303 yards.
"They were an angry bunch this week on the defensive line," said Kitna of a unit that lit him up for a Cincinnati season-high four sacks. "They've been really maligned down here."
While the Jags scrambled to help rookie right tackle Mo Williams and backup left tackle Todd Fordham (in place of Pro Bowler Tony Boselli), the Bengals hung with left tackle Richmond Webb in a one-on-one matchup with Jags all-time sack leader Tony Brackens. Webb has been solid and Brackens came into the game with just one sack, but that
all changed Sunday when Brackens knifed inside Webb twice to book-end his two-sack day.
The first sack came in the game's first five minutes and caused Kitna to recover a fumble at his own 1 on third down to set up a punt that led to the Jags' first touchdown.
Then in the game's last 6:05, Brackens got to Kitna in the end zone for a safety. Earlier in the fourth quarter, the Jags ran a perfect stunt and tackle Seth Payne come off right tackle for a sack.
"They've got real good individual players," Anderson said of the Jacksonville defensive line. "Tony Brackens is a great player. They're tough to play on the road. They have guys who have been Pro Bowlers (Brackens) and the rest of the guys (Payne and tackle Gary Walker) are top NFL players.
"They got us today," Anderson said. "That's what we did so well in the first half. If they changed, we did pick it up. In the second half, we were being sloppy with the penalties."
While the Bengals saw their first drive of the second half blunted on right guard Mike Goff's hold and left guard Scott Rehberg's false start, Hawkins and the secondary grappled with the Jags' new look that featured Brunell getting rid of the ball quicker behind more pass protectors.
"They did a good adjusting at halftime," Hawkins said. "From what I could tell, they were max protecting because Reinard and Justin were getting good pressure. They left (running back) Stacey Mack and the tight end in a majority of times."
So the Jags pretty much sent two, or maybe just one receiver, out on quick outs and slants.
"We had to come up and get in press, even in zone coverage," Hawkins said. "Because they weren't going to go long. We figured out that was the plan in the third quarter, but by that time it was a day late and a dollar short."
Still, if you told the Bengals before the game that McCardell (61) and Jimmy Smith (63) would combine for just 124 yards, that Smith's longest catch would be 13 yards, and that the longest catch of the day would be McCardell's 20-yarder, they no doubt would say they'd win the game.
"You really can't give them enough credit," Kitna said of the Jags. "We didn't have unforced errors like we've had in the past. Everything works in concert. You start scoring touchdowns and the other team is starting to try and figure out what they have to do different, the crowd is loud, and you've put yourself in a bad situation."