10-28-02, 6 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
It's unknown at the moment if Dick LeBeau ever intercepted Joe Namath, but on Sunday he imitated him. Ten minutes after his team fell to 0-7, LeBeau declared "next week we will win," in expansion Houston.
Told of the guarantee, right tackle Willie Anderson said, "Then we have to back it up."
"I believe this team is going to win," said LeBeau even though the Bengals have the NFL's worst road record in the past 11 seasons and the
Texans are coming off their first road victory in their history at Jacksonville.
But wide receiver Chad Johnson fell in line ("I assure you a win,") and with the Texans not even having time yet to clear their bulletin board, running back Corey Dillon hopped on LeBeau's bandwagon.
"I'm with him. I've got to ride with him," Dillon said. " I don't know about everyone else. I'm in the car. I'm riding shotgun on that one. We've got to. We've got no other choice. We can't let too many opportunities slide by."
41 REASONS:** That's how many reasons Bengals fullback Lorenzo Neal said he had to do a number on his old teammates from Tennessee. And after the game, the emotional No. 41 admitted, "I was crushing people," as the lead blocker for Corey Dillon's 138-yard day.
"You can't play this game without emotion," said Neal, who has been trying to light his teammates' fire all season. "We played with emotion today. I thought we made strides coming together as a team. We had the lead, we played
well, then adversity struck and the offense came back."
With the help of Neal's five catches for 37 yards (one catch off his career high), the Bengals rolled up 384 yards and a season-high 191 yards rushing. It was on the ground that Neal showed just how young and vulnerable the Titans' defense is without injured middle linebacker Randall Godfrey and departed strong safety Blaine Bishop.
On Dillon's 24-yard run that set up Neal's one-yard touchdown catch, Neal rubbed out rookie strong safety Tank Williams in sealing off the left side and springing him outside. On Dillon's four-yard touchdown run, Neal tore through third-year middle linebacker Frank Chamberlin before taking out Williams again.
Neal also scored the Bengals' first touchdown on a one-yard catch.
"I always want to go out and play as hard as I can," Neal said. "Yeah, I had some incentive today because of who we were playing."
WHERE'S THE DEFENSE?** For the fifth time in seven games, the Bengals allowed at least 30 points. But this one hurt the most because as right tackle Willie Anderson said, "To finally get the points and the yards and to lose like that is tough."
Despite having the lead for 35:37 (after having it for just 2:30 the previous 360 minutes), they had just one sack. They forced just one turnover. For the sixth and seventh times this season they allowed a touchdown play longer than 20 yards. (Last year in the first seven games, they had allowed just two touchdowns 23 yards or longer.)
And maybe the most disturbing, their vaunted front seven allowed a 100-yard rusher for the second straight game and third time this season.
"We can't give up 30 points," said defensive tackle," Oliver Gibson. "The offense gave us what we wanted. They got us points. Everyone down the way has to figure out what they can do. It's the little things. There's a thin line between a poor performance and a good performance, and in this league it's going to be exploited."
Gibson was down on himself for not only getting an encroachment penalty with 55 seconds left in the game that
gave Tennessee a first down and ended the game, but also for letting Titans quarterback Steve McNair spin away up the middle from one of his stunts for a 21-yard gain.
He admitted having that long play in the back of his mind probably caused him to move early on the last play.
"At some point, it has to be embarrassing. . .I look at myself," Gibson said "I still don't have a sack. I have to get more pressure. I got a couple of hits (on the quarterback), but I have to get home."
But the cornerbacks also had a rough day in the passing game, although some claimed McNair's two touchdown bombs early in the second half that gave the Titans a 20-14 lead were offensive pass interference. Kevin Kaesviharn, with starter Jeff Burris sidelined when he re-aggravated a hamstring pull, didn't turn his head around on a 32-yard TD to Derrick Mason. Artrell Hawkins did the same on a 39-yarder to Kevin Dyson, who had time to adjust and come back for the ball and then score the touchdown.
"They threw the ball up and they made plays and we didn't," Hawkins said. " I'm not going to say it was the pressure, because, as a corner, you never want to get beat. And when you do, you take it upon yourself and say that you gotta get better — you have to see the ball. It didn't happen today."
Middle linebacker Brian Simmons thought the key to the game came when the Bengals allowed three touchdowns in the second half after holding the Titans to two field goals in the red zone in the first half. Hawkins had a funny day. He helped cause a big fumble on Titans running back Eddie George at the Bengals 15 on the defense's first series, and had the Bengals only sack late in the first half. Some of his teammates didn't think he grabbed McNair's face mask long enough on the play to get hit with a penalty, which was a major 15-yarder.
He was also involved on Mason's curious winning TD catch from 16 yards out that gave Tennessee the lead for good with 10:07 left in the game. Defensive end Justin Smith, widely regarded as the team's best pass rusher, dropped into zone coverage on the second-and-seven play and Mason zipped past him and in front of Hawkins for the catch.
"It's scheme," Gibson said. "If it works, it's a great call."
But Hawkins came back to the Dyson play, in which it appeared both had their hands all over each other.
"I didn't make a play when I needed to in the second half, and that's something I have to live with for the next seven days," Hawkins said. "And I can't wait to get back out there and compete next Sunday. This is going to die hard with me."
IMAGE BREAKERS: During a day the Bengals' woes went under the microscope on ESPN's acclaimed "Outside The Lines," the players thought their loser's image killed them inside the lines with the officials. Not only did they think another team would have gotten the touchdown on the final play, but they felt like Tennessee receivers Derrick Mason and Kevin Dyson mauled their cornerbacks on long touchdown passes.
And cornerback Artrell Hawkins' 15-yard face-mask penalty on quarterback Steve McNair came into question.
"I don't know which way you guys saw it, but it didn't look like to me that he really grabbed his facemask," said quarterback Jon Kitna. "But when things are borderline, they're going to go against us. That's how it is. Until you do something to disprove that and get things to go your way, that's how it's going to be."
Or, as running back Corey Dillon said, "We're Cincinnati. For some odd reason , they don't like to give us calls in our favor."
The fans also didn't like the call and threw a variety of objects on the field, earning the refs a security escort off the field.
KITNA SOLID:** In Jon Kitna's 18 starts as the Bengals quarterback, he has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions five times. For the first time in those games Sunday, the Bengals lost. With two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Titans, Kitna nearly tripled his passer rating of 54.5 with a 127.6 day. He also snapped a string of 25 picks in 14 straight games with an interception. He won praise for his solid decision-making after two disastrous decisions two weeks ago against the Steelers, as he led touchdown drives of 71, 89, and 91 yards.
"We came out and did some things we were talking about for two weeks," Kitna said. "And that's not turning the ball over, try to play smart, establish the running game, try to get a lead early or at least be in the game at halftime so our best player (Corey Dillon) can remain in the game.
"The defensive statistic board is one out of 30 times a team gets the ball on the 20-yard line they score a touchdown," Kitna said. "To have it twice in one game is pretty special, but ... so close."
The key? Right tackle Willie Anderson said it was the offensive line's best game as far as firing off the ball in the running game. Their 191 rushing yards was their most in 364 days, when they had 224 in a 31-27 win at Detroit. Plus, it was the first game the Bengals didn't allow a sack since the 13th game of last season. Anderson blanked AFC sack leader Kevin Carter and rookie left tackle Levi Jones posted his first shutout in his third NFL start.
ONE FOR THE BOOKS: Bengals rookie tight end Matt Schobel caught his first NFL touchdown pass Sunday from eight yards out to give the Bengals a brief 24-20 lead early in the fourth quarter, the first score by a tight end since Tony McGee caught a 25-yarder on Opening Day, 2001.
"Jon (Kitna) made a great play," said Schobel of the bootleg pass. "He saw it was a blitz coming from the edge and got rid of it before he got sacked or had the ball knocked down."
Schobel is going to be the man for at least another week and maybe more. After undergoing a MRI on his knee on Friday, Sean Brewer has already been ruled out for the Houston game and there has been some speculation he might need another arthroscopic surgery.
NOT SO SPECIAL:** The Bengals' special teams got outplayed again. Titans punter Craig Hentrich drilled three punts inside the 12, the Bengals got called for holding on two of their punts, and Brandon Bennett fumbled a fourth-quarter kickoff that led to Tennessee's final points on a field goal.
"I just didn't get my other arm over to secure and it came out," Bennett said. "I have to be more conscious of that."
INJURY UPDATE:** The Bengals lost LB Armegis Spearman on the opening kickoff with a high ankle sprain and he's doubtful this week. FS Cory Hall (ankle) is probable. WR Danny Farmer (toe) is probable. CB Jeff Burris (hamstring) is probable. WR Michael Westbrook, inactive Sunday with a hamstring problem, is probable.
CHASING EMMITT: On the day Emmitt Smith became the NFL's all-time leading rusher, Corey Dillon moved into 37th place on the list with his 138 yards. He passed Chuck Muncie, Wilbert Montgomery, and John Henry Johnson and now has 6,811 career yards. He has 602 yards this season, which computes to a 1,376-yard finish.
KITNA-JOHNSON CONNECTION: Quarterback Jon Kitna seems to have found his go-to-guy, although wide receiver Chad Johnson doesn't like to be called that. He had a career-high 86 yards, he converted the first third-down of each of the first two scoring drives, and outfought Titans safety Lance Schulters on a leaping 15-yard catch over the middle on the field-goal drive.
"Not to talk stuff, but they can't cover me out there," said Johnson, who also had game-long "jaw-jacking," session with cousin and Titans cornerback Samari Rolle. "It's just a matter of becoming more consistent."
Wide receivers coach Steve Mooshagian said, "We're watching a guy
grow up before our eyes. In the last month, he's running the right depth on his routes, he's coming up with the contested catch, and he's making plays that matter. And he's blocking better."
For the third straight game, Johnson caught at least six passes and had at least 71 yards. The Bengals started the game with four wide receivers, but when they went with two it was usually Johnson and Ron Dugans. Peter Warrick played virtually only in the slot, but did come up with a big 21-yard catch on the last drive.
"Pete was able to focus pretty much on the slot and did all that we asked," Mooshagian said. "His blocking was excellent. All the receivers blocked downfield well and that's no surprise given how many yards Corey had. There's usually a correlation there."