9-8-03, 4:25 a.m.
Updated: 9-8-03, 6:25 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Willie Anderson limping at right tackle symbolized how his offensive line struggled Sunday against the Broncos in allowing four sacks and just 2.3 yards per carry in a punchless running game during the 30-10 loss to Denver.
Anderson said he pulled his hamstring in the first quarter, came out briefly in the second quarter, and returned after halftime before the coaches pulled him in the fourth quarter.
Anderson, tapped as Sunday's offensive captain, hopes he can make his 50th straight start next Sunday in Oakland. He's tied with running back Corey Dillon for the roster lead, but that streak might be in jeopardy.
"It was wacky. I was thinking about (the leg) so much that I think it affected me," Anderson said. "It's still no excuse. I take responsibility for what happened for some of the things."
The tough thing is that it appeared the pressure came even though quarterback Jon Kitna said the Broncos rushed just four linemen and dropped seven into pass coverage. After watching Kitna get pressured into two interceptions and two fumbles, left tackle Levi Jones said it shouldn't have mattered if Denver flashed a few different looks.
"As an offensive line, we didn't get it done," Jones said. "There's no secret about it. Kitna got touched way too much for my liking. . . Whatever they do, they can put cheerleaders out there, or they can put pit bulls out there, we have to block them."
Denver's pit bull turned out to be defensive end Trevor Pryce, but he got in a stance everywhere up and down the line and appeared to beat right guard Matt O'Dwyer to cause two of the Bengals' four turnovers.
Pryce finished with three tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. Even without injured tackle Daryl Gardener, the Broncos whipped the Bengals using a line rotation that got two tipped passes for Darius Holland and two sacks for Bertrand Berry, a sixth-year player making his 16th start.
"Last year, they didn't put me inside at all to rush the passer," said Pryce, who switched from tackle to end last year and still went to the Pro Bowl. "This year they did and it paid off."
Anderson said the Broncos knew he couldn't do much on his leg and they started to do more games on his side and, "I couldn't really stop the inside move.
"Everybody played for them. Nobody played that much because they kept rotating guys in," Anderson said. "But we broke down. We had a good game plan. We had the opportunity to run, but didn't get it done."
In two of the three previous Opening Days, the offensive line had been criticized for being out of shape in the 24-7 loss to Cleveland in 2000 and last year's 34-6 loss to San Diego. But Anderson said that wasn't a factor Sunday. It was more isolated mistakes.
"We felt good. We didn't feel out of shape," Anderson said. "It was a lot of different things. On one play it might not have been getting a force block, and then it was something else on another play."
There may be a lineup change in store for the Oakland game. While Pryce was wreaking havoc, they replaced O'Dwyer at right guard with center Mike Goff and brought Rich Braham off the bench to play center. O'Dwyer did return, but everyone had a rough day.
They had two key penalties when the game was still close. Trailing 3-0 late in the first quarter, rookie left guard Eric Steinbach had the first of his two false starts on a second-and-eight that killed a drive. Then when it was 10-0, a hold on Goff negated Dillon's longest run of the day.
Anderson isn't sure he's going to be in that lineup for the 50th straight time.
"It's my goal," Anderson said. "I take a lot of pride in that streak."
UNIFORM DECISION:** Bengals equipment manager Rob Recker can moonlight for the CIA after keeping the Bengals' switch to black pants secret for some seven months. He and head coach Marvin Lewis began working on the idea in February, and sprung it on the players Sunday morning when they came into the locker room.
"It was great to find them hanging in the locker. It goes all along with how everything is different around here," said cornerback Artrell Hawkins, who wore all black at the University of Cincinnati.
Pretty much only Recker, Lewis, and the Brown family knew about the switch.
"The players loved it," Recker said. "But the game didn't turn out the way we wanted it and I think that took a lot of the fizz out of it."
KITNA BOOED: It took about a quarter for the "Who Dey," chants to turn into the "We want Palmer," chants. People will hear what head coach Marvin Lewis is chanting about quarterback Jon Kitna Monday after he watches tape.
Clearly Kitna's effort was impeded by the poor play of the offensive line, but Lewis wasn't pleased with one of Kitna's two interceptions and his overthrow of a wide-open Peter Warrick at the Denver 10 when it was a tight game.
Lewis may not be looking to replace Kitna yet, but Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe said Kitna played like he is peeking over his shoulder at Carson Palmer.
The interception came on the first series of the third quarter when Kitna tried an odd, back-handed shovel pass to running back Corey Dillon that got picked off by linebacker Ian Gold for a 12-yard touchdown return that made it 27-3 and jacked up the volume on the calls for Palmer.
""The thing that was most disappointing with Jon's play, was that he tried to make a bad play worse, with flicking the ball," Lewis said. "He threw it behind Corey Dillon, and they intercepted it. That's disappointing.
We had some balls batted down today, but that is not necessarily Jon's fault. We have to do better in both routes. I think he missed the one open throw that was on the side with Peter Warrick, we had a little pressure. We have to stay in there and make those throws. When I watch the tape, then I will see how Jon played."
That may not be out of the ringing endorsement department, but he may end up seeing that Kitna didn't have much help.
"Sometimes as a quarterback, you kind of get feeling a little uneasy, and that's the thing," Kitna said. "I have to make sure I don't do that. You try to make plays and you think you can make a play, and you try to do that and sometimes that's s not there. As a quarterback, when you do something like that, it usually is a disaster for the offense, and I have to be a little more careful.
"It was third and (seven) and there was quick pressure," said Kitna of Trevor Pryce's bolt into the backfield. "I just tried to throw it to Corey, and there was a guy hanging on me. Sometimes with a guy hanging on you, the ball doesn't go where you want it to go. I felt like if I could have gotten it to him, he might be able to make something happen."
Kitna did throw a 41-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Chad Johnson with three minutes left in the game to finish with 264 yards passing, but he had just 86 after three quarters.
Warrick felt the Bengals should have taken some more shots downfield earlier, but the rush and the seven-man coverage made it tough to go long.
"Right now you can tell Kitna's kind of looking over his shoulder because you know any time you take a guy first in the draft, it's not going to be long before they put him in the ballgame," Sharpe said.
Kitna denied it.
"I'm way beyond that now," Kitna said.
STUNTS AND SCREENS:** Reports on the Bengals' radio network said former Bengals kicker Neil Rackers plans to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery Tuesday, which means he could be kicking in a few weeks.
But Shayne Graham did well in his Bengals debut despite only being here for five days. He made his one field-goal try, and had two kickoffs to the goal line.
"I was 2-for-1 on field goals," he said after making a 26-yarder when his 21-yarder was negated by rookie guard Eric Steinbach's false start. After Denver Pro Bowler Jason Elam knocked through a 51-yarder for a 3-0 lead, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis passed up a 51-yarder of his own for the tie to unsuccessfully go for it on fourth-and-10.
"The wind was in our face a little bit," said Graham, who has two 50-yarders in his career. "It's the coach's decision. He knows best. Mentally I was ready to go either way." . . .
It wasn't a good day for the captains. Right tackle Willie Anderson pulled his hamstring, and kick returner Brandon Bennett, named the special teams captain for Sunday, was extremely disappointed with his fumble on his own 29 with 1:07 left in the first half that gave Denver a field goal for a 20-3 half-time lead. It wasn't the first hit by the tag team of Kelly Herndon and Reuben Droughns.
"I had it wrapped up," Bennett said. "It was the second hit and it was in just the right spot because the first hit was no problem. No one is beating me up more than me. I know I'm carrying everyone's hopes and dreams when I take the ball out of there." . . .
Wide receiver Chad Johnson and tight end Matt Schobel were the best players on the field for the Bengals. Johnson made a diving, all-out 41-yard touchdown catch after racing past cornerback Deltha O'Neal, and finished with 95 yards on six catches. That's about right where he left off last season, but a little shy of the pace he needs for 1,800 yards. Schobel had career day with a team-high 97 yards on four catches.
"That's all good, but I need that win," Johnson said. "I want to put that 'W' up for the team and for the fans. We sold out today for a reason. We are more disappointed than they are. It's not going to be like this. . .not this year."
"I really wanted to go out and get this one, not so much for us, but for Marvin," Johnson said. "I promised the coaches before the game that it wouldn't be like what we went through last year, and that we'd make Coach Lewis look good in his debut. All 53 of us need to come out next week and do what we need to do." . . .
TACKLING PROBLEMS: Offensive mastermind Mike Shanahan gave the Bengals' defense a few wrinkles they hadn't seen. But a Marvin Lewis defense still isn't supposed to give up 184 yards rushing. And if it had been close to competent, the Bengals probably would have won because Jake Plummer tried to hand it to them with three interceptions and a passer rating of 21.7 in his first assignment as the Denver quarterback.
"We just didn't tackle the guy," said defensive end Justin Smith of running back Clinton Portis' 120 yards on 24 carries. "We had seven guys on the dude and he was still running. You've got to get him on the ground the first time."
Two of Denver's receivers outrushed Corey Dillon (35-34) with Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie, combining for 35 yards, mainly on reverses.
They also hurt the Bengals on wide-receiver screens. Plus, Portis said Denver wanted to run the ball against the Bengals when they had six defensive backs on the field on passing downs. That appeared to be how they made the killing play of the game, a nine-yard Portis run on third-and-seven that set up Portis' two-yard touchdown run on the next play to make it 10-0.
"The opening game in the NFL is always kind of difficult," said middle linebacker Kevin Hardy. "In the preseason, the defense spends a lot of time worrying about their offense and they came out today and gave us a whole bunch of things we hadn't seen, but that's to their credit.
"You can't say you didn't expect to see stuff," Hardy said. "You have to be able to prepare for everything. We hadn't seen some of those things and they gave us a big dose of it, and they were working, so they continued to do them. . .(Portis) was running without breaking stride , and it's hard to stop a back when he's running downhill like that."