No selections make Bengals wonder

1-2-02, 11:30 a.m.

Updated: 1-2-02, 6:05 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

For the first time in three years, no Bengal has been selected to the AFC Pro Bowl roster. Still, some may play Feb. 9 in Hawaii as alternates because of injuries or other circumstances.

Two-time Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon, and right tackle Willie Anderson have been tapped as first alternates. Fullback Lorenzo Neal is also an alternate and right outside linebacker Takeo Spikes is a third alternate.

But Dillon indicated before Wednesday's practice that he preferred not to go as an alternate.

"I don't wish anybody who made it outright to get hurt," Dillon said before practice. "I don't want to go and I don't want to make it that way. I tip my hat to the people who made it. They deserve it. Their stats are where they need to be. They deserve to go.

"Me, personally, I don't think I deserve to go anyway, so it's not a big deal," Dillon said. " I don't think my stats were good enough to go anyway. I'm not disappointed. I'm not angry. . .What bothers me is I'm in my fifth year and I'm in the same situation of not winning. That's what bothers me."

The three AFC running backs are the top two NFL rushers, Curtis Martin of the Jets and Priest Holmes of the Chiefs, (227 and 210 yards, respectively, ahead of Dillon), as well as Steelers running back Jerome Bettis. Even though Bettis has missed the last month with an injured groin.

Dillon is the only Bengal to finish in the top five in fan voting, finishing

behind Bettis, Martin and San Diego rookie LaDainian Tomlinson. Even though Dillon has the second-best rushing total of his career with 1,228 yards, along with career-bests of 318 carries, 11 touchdowns, and 31 catches heading into Sunday's finale in Tennessee.

"There's going to be a lot of good players who are going to be at home and I'm one of them," Dillon said. "So big deal. I've been two out of the last three years. I'm not upset at all."

Spikes, who hasn't shied away from wanting it badly, was a bit upset after coming up short again in his fourth season behind Pittsburgh's Jason Gildon, Cleveland's Jamir Miller and San Diego's Junior Seau.

"It's disappointing," Spikes said. "You work so hard all year and a lot of it is politics," said Spikes, who has always said playing on a winner is the key to making it to the Pro Bowl. "I don't think that will ever change. A lot of it boils down to wins and losses. I hate it. Life goes on."

Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna, surprised that "five or six guys," didn't make it, also thought some of his teammates could have made it with a better record.

"When you're 4-10 going into the Pro Bowl balloting, then you probably don't get as many votes," Kitna said. " In my opinion, Willie Anderson has played at – I don't think anybody in the league has played at the level where he is. I remember one time all year that I had any pressure coming from my right hand side on the outside. That's amazing in this league that we're in and the division that we're in and the defenses that we played this year. Corey (Dillon) and Lorenzo (Neal) are certainly deserving in my opinion. Takeo and Brian Simmons – I loved watching him this year. It is disappointing, but that's this business."

Anderson and left tackle Richmond Webb, at eight and seven respectively, were the only other Bengals besides Dillon to get top 10 recognition at their positions from fan balloting. The fans share a third of the vote with players and coaches.

For instance, Buffalo's Larry Centers is the AFC fullback even though Kansas City's Tony Richardson won the fan vote. Neal, who said last week he thinks he should go, is still waiting after nine seasons.

Also working against the Bengals is they have played all of their games at 1 p.m. local time on Sunday.

"It's hard when you don't have any prime time TV games on Monday night or Sunday night," said Webb, who made it to seven straight Pro Bowls with the Dolphins. "If we had won more games, I have to believe that would have helped, too."

The Bengals' running game did struggle during the seven-game losing streak, a stretch when Dillon tied his longest drought ever with six straight games without 100 yards. At 3.9 yards per carry, he's also in danger of finishing a season with less than four yards per carry for the first time in his life.

But he did have some big days. His 96-yard run against Detroit is the longest in club history and was part of his best-ever road game with 184 yards. Two weeks ago in Baltimore, he became the first back in 50 games to rush for 100 yards against the Ravens. Against Tampa Bay, his six-yard catch-and-crunch at the goal line tied the game with eight seconds left in regulation before the Bengals lost in overtime when Dillon fumbled on the Cincinnati 3.

"Just who sparkled more than he, I don't know," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "But we certainly felt good about his year. He did everything. He's an outstanding player for us who competed hard in every game. He's got 11 touchdowns on a team that didn't get many chances to score touchdowns. In my mind, he had a Pro Bowl year."

Brown empathized with the plight of Simmons and Spikes.

"There's probably more depth at the linebacker position than anywhere in the NFL," Brown said. "I think Takeo and Brian are tremendous players. I take our linebackers and stack them up against anybody's."

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