9-22-03, 3:30 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
When they write the Marvin Lewis story, Sunday's score is going to be only a mere footnote in the chapter how Lewis took control of the Bengals.
Lewis is ticked, mad, furious, frustrated. Pick your adjective. But even before the 17-10 loss to Pittsburgh, Lewis sat down the guy who has been their best player of the young season.
Wide receiver Chad Johnson only sat out the first couple of plays and took just six snaps to make the club's biggest play of the day, a 31-yard catch. But he didn't get the chance to start because of disciplinary reasons.
Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham speculated on his pre-game show that Johnson was late to a Saturday meeting. When asked, Johnson said, "If it's not about the game, I'm not talking about it."
Whatever Johnson did, Lewis did something that quarterback Jon Kitna said, "didn't happen here last year." Asked if it will help the team, Kitna said, "We'll see. We have to be a team," alluding to the belief that all have to be disciplined equally even if it's, say, the leading receiver.
"Chad didn't start because of a decision that was made by the team and myself," is all Lewis would say. But that's all he had to say.
Still, while Lewis continues to do and say all the right things, he can't get a win. And he has to go through a week of this:
The Bengals head to Cleveland this Sunday still looking for their first AFC North victory ever and their first road division win in September since 1988.
"This was a big game," said quarterback Jon Kitna. "Now we have to get the next one."
Lewis minced no words Sunday. Some players said Lewis told them after the game they were 80 percent of the way there and it's not good enough. Lewis is looking for big plays at the big moments.
"I think our players believe that they can win. We have to go do it and win play after play," Lewis said. "You have to go win your job every play. That is what is important as a player. You don't know what play it is going to
be that you don't win that is a significant play in the football game. Whether it's a field-position play, a holding penalty, a missed tackle, a missed assignment — whatever it's going to be, they all boil down to they get you beat, and they make you play behind the eight ball. We have to do a better job of coaching and a better job of playing. It's as simple as that."
This may be the fourth time in five years the Bengals have started 0-3, but it hurts Lewis.
"Nothing can surprise you, but I didn't want to be (0-3) at this point," Lewis said. "We are going to deal with things though, and move forward. We played three football teams that are very good, as everybody knows, and this could have happened. That's the NFL, there is closeness in the play and you have to find some way to win these games."
Kitna is at a loss to put his finger on it. Told that people are trying to hang their hats on anything that shows them things are going to be different, Kitna said, "So are we."
For instance, the Bengals have yet to have the lead this season, and Kitna said, " "We're always behind. We haven't been ahead yet. We'll play better when we get ahead."
SLANTS AND SCREENS:** It was a funny game. There seemed to be a lot of controversial calls, but no challenges because the plays weren't reviewable. The big one came on the Steelers' first touchdown on third-and-goal. Bengals free safety Mark Roman absolutely crushed receiver Hines Ward at the goal line and pushed him back to the 2 with help of outside linebacker Brian Simmons.
Ward's progress was seemingly stopped until Steelers fullback Dan Kreider and Bengals defensive
end Carl Powell joined the pile and pushed Ward and the ball to the goal line. The NFL's observer at the game said it's legal to jump in and move a pile, but illegal to help an isolated player get forward progress.
"You can't complain too much," said outside linebacker Brian Simmons. "They're not going to change the call because you disagree with it. That's just another example of something you have to just play through."
But Lewis said it was a matter of the Steelers finishing the play and the Bengals not. Pittsburgh agreed.
"When I caught it, (Roman) came up and made a pretty good hit on me and knocked the breath out of me a little bit. I was just trying to fall down to the ground to save myself because the wind was already out of me," Ward said. "But Danny and (Steelers guard Alan) Faneca and those guys just kept running and I think Danny just picked me up and pushed me in the end zone. So I've got to give a lot of credit to Danny for just going out there and hustling." . . . <>
By the way, Faneca had the hit of the game when he knocked the helmet off Bengals outside linebacker Adrian Ross. He also drilled Ross on another play in which his helmet looked to bounce around. It isn't the first time Faneca has done something like that. When asked if he knew how many times he's knocked off a helmet, he said to the reporters, "maybe they should come up with a new category." . .
In his second Cincinnati start, strong safety Rogers Beckett got his first Bengals' interception, third of his career and first in nearly two years since he picked off a Trent Green pass in Kansas City Dec. 23, 2001. The Bengals now have five interceptions by five different players compared to seven players combining for a NFL-low nine last year.
Beckett is one of the few defensive guys who stepped up (tackle Tony Williams had the team's lone sack, cornerback Jeff Burris had a game-high 11 tackles and Simmons added nine) and made a play Sunday. His pick came with the Bengals trailing, 7-0, his 11-yard return put it on the Steeler 45, and Chad Johnson's 20-yard catch from there set up Shayne Graham's 44-yard field goal to make it 7-3 with 10:04 left in the third quarter.
"I saw it on film during the week," Beckett said. "We had everybody to the right, but I stayed to the back side thinking he was going to come back to the left and he did." . . .
Bengals wide receiver Peter Warrick almost popped a punt all the way in the fourth quarter, 4:38 before he scored the touchdown to pull the Bengals within a touchdown. He would have saved Cincinnati nearly five minutes if he didn't stumble as he was about to beat punter Josh Miller to the sidelines. It was his longest return of the season at 31 yards, but he didn't blame the grass for slipping.
"I messed it up for everybody," Warrick said. "I just tripped, fell, whatever. The main thing is, I don't want it to happen again. If it does, it better be in the end zone. It was the kind of play where everyone blocked, and then everybody blocked somebody else." . . .
Rookie free-agent cornerback Terrell Roberts made his NFL debut Sunday with a kick return of 18 yards and a special teams tackle. He gets on the field before his more well known teammate at Oregon State, fourth-round pick Dennis Weathersby, a cornerback on the inactive list for the third straight week. . .