9-30-02, 4 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Fitting, really, the way Corey Dillon, became the Bengals' all-time rusher Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
He did it with 2:30 left in a game his team got blown out of in front of a sparse house and it wasn't on TV.
Dillon, whose splendid 6,452-yard career has been pretty much blacked out from the rest of the NFL, passed James Brooks in vintage fashion. On his last carry of they day, he got the five yards pretty much on his own when the draw play got stuffed up the middle and he wriggled to his left to carve something out of nothing to sum up his battles with a quarterback-challenged franchise.
"We got the record, but it really doesn't mean much to me," Dillon told Dave Lapham on the post-game radio show. "We're 0-4. I don't know how to accept that record right now."
And that's about all Dillon said. Those waiting for the volatile Pro Bowler to spew six seasons of frustration are going to have to wait. But with Dillon on pace to have his first sub 1,000-yard season ever (960) and his season's yard-per-carry average of 3.5 nearly a yard below his career average of 4.4, the eruption may not be long in coming.
Tampa Bay held him to 59 yards on 21 carries, which means he has one 100-yard game this year and two in the
Bengals' 2-11 stretch dating back to last season.
There has been no room to run with the worst big-play passing game in the NFL and it was never more evident than Sunday, when his longest run was nine yards and 10 of his runs were for two yards or less.
"But that doesn't diminish his greatness," said fullback Lorenzo Neal. "C.D. is going to get his. (The record) means something to me. It's an honor for me to block for one of the great runners who is ever going to play in the NFL. I'm sure it means something to him."
Brooks, who spent the first three seasons of his career in San Diego, took 118 games to set the record by averaging 54.6 yards per game. Dillon did it in 82 games at about 78 yards per.
DEFENSE PAYS FOR LAPSES:** The Bengals' defense played pretty well, except on Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson's three touchdown passes of 35 yards to tight end Ricky Dudley, 65 to wide receiver Keenan McCardell, and 22 to tight end Ken Dilger.
Plus, the Bengals struggled on third-and-long. On plays Johnson faced a third-and-eight or longer, he was 4-for-6 for 57 yards. None of the TDs came off those plays, although his 16-yard pass to McCardell in front of cornerback Artrell Hawkins set up the score to Dilger.
The TDs were particularly painful for a proud defense that hasn't come near its 2001 form even though every starter has returned. No one was near Dudley or McCardell, and Dilger ran through the tackles of Hawkins, defensive end Justin Smith, and free safety Cory Hall.
"Once I got past the first guy, the two little DB's in the secondary didn't want to touch me," Dilger said. "I kind of bounced off of a few of them and made it in the end zone."
That had to also be painful for a team that backed off signing Dilger and
Dudley because of age and injury history during the offseason.
Right outside linebacker Takeo Spikes took the blame for Dudley being wide open because he didn't drop deep enough in a zone. The McCardell play, a 65-yard loft down the left sideline, was a bit more complicated. It appears that a failure to recognize a flood route by the Bengals DBs and to make the proper zone call resulted in them shadowing Keyshawn Johnson short and losing contact with McCardell deep.
It's the kind of play the Bengals thought they were rid of when they re-signed Hawkins and signed Jeff Burris from the Colts during the offseason.
" "I don't think they blitzed on those two plays," said Tampa coach Jon Gruden of the two long passes. "We shifted on Dudley's touchdown and caught them a three-deep zone and Brad made a good look to Keenan on a double move and move the free safety and Dudley hit it. That's the speed he brings to our football team. The guy can legitimately get down the field in a hurry. If you have any error in your three-deep play, he can hurt you bad. I thought on the touchdown on McCardell, Keyshawn ran a hook route I thought their right corner jumped it and we got a little read where we have McCardell going on top. And that was the read today. We've run that play before but that hasn't been the read but we got the big play today and we needed it."
Brad Johnson's three-step drops protected a beat-up Bucs line. Right tackle Kenyatta Walker didn't play, but left guard Kenny Jenkins did despite a broken leg he received Monday night, and the Bengals got to Johnson twice. One sack came on Hawkins' corner blitz, an example of why Johnson was impressed with how his people picked up the Bengals' pressure.
"They were blitzing everything but the kitchen sink," Johnson said. " It was unbelievable what they brought at us today. We responded pretty well for the most part, but we hit them with a few big plays today. We just kind of took advantage of when they exposed themselves at different times."
In the end, the Cincinnati defense finally forced their first three turnovers of the season and put the offense in a good enough position to compete.
Hawkins, all over the place with a game-high seven tackles, recovered a fumble, middle linebacker Brian Simmons gave the Bengals their first lead of the season with a 51-yard interception return for a touchdown, and defensive tackle Oliver Gibson hauled in his first career interception when Justin Smith tipped a Johnson pass.
But Gibson had a tough time savoring the play.
"Say what you want about our offense, we gave them two touchdowns," Gibson said. "And that put us in the hole and got us out of our scheme and game plan. We've got to stop doing that."
Like everyone else, Simmons thought his touchdown with 2:23 left in the first quarter meant this was finally a Bengals' day. Simmons dropped back in a zone blitz, tackle Tony Williams belted Johnson as threw a curl to Keyshawn Johnson, and Simmons stretched out to pluck it and kept his momentum going down the left sideline for his second TD return in six games.
"Yeah, that's what you think. Here we go," said Simmons of the play's impact. "But it turned out to be irrelevant."
JONES DEBUT:** No. 1 pick Levi Jones made his NFL debut Sunday at left tackle after three weeks of dabbling at tight end. And he may be playing a lot more after starter Richmond Webb underwent a MRI Sunday night with an injured pectoral muscle.
Before Webb got hurt, the Bengals played him two series and then rotated in Jones for a series in an effort to ease Jones into a spot where the veteran has struggled. It looked like both had their problems against right end Simeon Rice, but it was tackle Warren Sapp who dominated the day with two sacks and a forced fumble.
"I haven't played left tackle in a while, so I was kind of in the same position as Akili," Jones said. "I think I held up all right. Simeon Rice is a great player, a good defensive end, but it would
have been a lot easier if (I) didn't have Warren Sapp in the three technique. He just plays so wide. Just his presence makes you think about him."
Which meant that when Sapp was on the Bengals' left side, he was lined up on Jones' inside shoulder, but Jones had to focus on the outside man. It appeared that Sapp came off the left side for his second and final sack, which caused an Akili Smith fumble. And, of course, Sapp was talking the whole time.
"They were all talking," Jones said.
SLANTS AND POSTS:** Bucs WR Keenan McCardell, who had three 100-yard games against the Bengals while with the Jaguars, got his first with the Bucs. But he had a Jimmy Smith-type day with his 108 yards coming on four catches. . .
Bengals WR Chad Johnson will hear it for years now. He had no catches, while cousin Keyshawn had five for 56 yards.
" "Keep your head up. I need to not worry about everybody else but make sure I'm doing my part right," said Chad of his cousin's post-game advice. "That's how he said he takes it when things are going bad for them, but he can say that because they're 3-1 now. I don't know, man. I don't know what's going on. I know everyone's
frustrated. The fans are frustrated, the media tired of hearing the same old story, but at some point during the season, we're going to turn it around. We're going to. I know probably that everyone else is not going to be patient, you know, because it's the same old thing every year. But me as a player, I take this personally losing like this. I never came from a losing situation and I'm losing now, but this isn't what I want, so I'm going to give it my all week in and week out."
Keyshawn is still looking for his first TD of the season, but Chad thought he beat him to the punch when he made a leaping grab of a 17-yard pass in the back corner of the end zone that was ruled incomplete when he lost it as he flew out of bounds early in the fourth quarter.
"Of course I had the ball — you watched it," Chad said. "Not only did I have it, I was pushed out of bounds and still got one and a half feet in — one toe on the line. Man, that's a catch. I'm all the way out by the wall. The ground can't cause a fumble. I had possession, which I believe is three seconds. That was a stupid call." . . .
WR Danny Farmer (knee) has been upgraded to questionable for next Sunday's game after missing the last three games. . .DE Vaughn Booker is questionable after being inactive Sunday. . .RG Mike Goff is out for next Sunday again with the deep cut on his leg. . .From Sunday's game, MLB Brian Simmons (shoulder) is probable, RT Willie Anderson (shoulder) is probable and LT Richmond Webb (shoulder) is questionable.