Passing game flunking

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Peter Warrick looked to be fighting the emotions of a defending national champion at Florida State dealing with his seventh loss in nine NFL games as a Bengal.

"I love winning," Warrick said Sunday after the 27-7 loss to the Ravens. "I've been winning my whole life."

One of the reasons the Bengals are losing is they just can't get the ball to Warrick and his receivers. Or they drop it. Or, to use the most overused phrase of the season, "aren't on the same page."

And there are people in the Bengals' organization who would like to see more of Warrick. Last season's most dangerous college player touched the ball four times Sunday and didn't get involved in punt returns.

"I don't know what to say," Warrick said. "Whatever they decide to call. I just have to go with the flow."

How low is the NFL's lowest passing game?

Since Warrick caught a 28-yard pass in Jacksonville the second week of the season, there has been one completion of 20 yards or more to a wide receiver in the last seven games. That was Craig Yeast's 22-yarder back on Oct. 15 in Pittsburgh.

On that day, Warrick caught four passes for 21 yards in one of the six games his longest catch was 11 yards or less.

Warrick's longest of his two catches Sunday was 11 yards, his biggest gain since an 18-yarder against Miami Oct. 1.

After taking a snap at quarterback Sunday and scoring on a four-yard sweep, Warrick now has one more rushing TD than receiving TD, 2-1.

It also underscored how much quarterback Akili Smith has struggled since throwing two touchdown passes against Cleveland in his NFL debut last year. Since then, in his last 12 starts, he's finished off five touchdown drives as the quarterback. When Warrick moved under center, Smith split to the left.

Warrick is the first to admit he's dropped some chances. He had his 11th of the season on Sunday when he beat Ravens cornerback Duane Starks down the right sideline as Smith floated a 40-yarder. Warrick outfought Starks for position, but dropped it as he fell to the ground.

"I let it get past my eyes," Warrick said. "It was catchable. I don't make any excuses, man. If I mess up, then I mess up, but I move on."

Smith, who finished with 137 yards passing in his eighth straight sub 200 game, spent much of the day staring quizzically at his receivers after incompletions.

"They're expecting me to do different things and we're not on the same page in some instances," Smith said. "You can't play football like that."

A prime example came in the same series Warrick dropped the long ball. Yeast appeared to break off a crossing pattern when Smith threw it in front of him expecting to complete the cross.

"We had some miscommunication in the second half," Smith said. "I was expecting Craig to be somewhere and he went somewhere else. We're still learning about those holes that we always talk about that you guys might not know about, but we're still learning.

"I thought he'd keep running around that zone and bust across," Smith said. "I threw the ball out there. . .He was thinking something totally else and that's what it's all about. Learning each other."

Warrick said he thought he was left one-on-one most of the time in coverage, but didn't have an answer why he couldn't be exploited.

Asked if it was because there are three rookie receivers working with basically a rookie quarterback, Warrick said, "That's what people see on the outside, but it's not one thing or person. . .There's a messup here or a messup there."

NICE QB RATING: Warrick, who threw for 13 touchdowns and ran for 13 touchdowns as a senior quarterback at Bradenton Southeast High School in Florida, said he lined up as a quarterback in practice at Florida State but can't remember being used in a game, "because we didn't need it."

"They're doing everything possible to get me the ball and I'm trying to make something happen," said Warrick, who lost seven yards on an end-around that got sniffed out by cornerback Chris McAlister.

"It was a blitz. Right call or it would have been. . . ." Warrick said.

When Warrick scored the touchdown to make it 24-7, he didn't celebrate with his "Paul Brown Leap," into the stands.

"I wanted to do a little dance," said Warrick, who now calls the step, "The PDub Shuffle."

WILSON SITS: On the morning of his sixth game as Bengals head coach, Dick LeBeau continued to shake up the lineup no matter the name.

Former first round-pick Reinard Wilson was inactive Sunday for the first time in his career. He's missed one NFL game and that was last season with a pulled hamstring.

Wilson has struggled finding a role since being taken with the 14th pick out of Florida State in 1997. He's played mostly on passing downs this season after moving full-time to defensive end from linebacker.

The Bengals have been getting more of a pass rush from linebackers Steve Foley and Adrian Ross when they move to defensive end in passing situations. Wilson has no sacks this season and has just three since posting a career-high six sacks in 1998.

But of all days, the Bengals lost two of the guys who can play Wilson's spot during Sunday's game. Ross left with a sprained left ankle in the second quarter and outside linebacker Canute Curtis broke a hand. Both are questionable for next Sunday's game in Dallas.

GROCE OUT AGAIN: Fullback Clif Groce and his sprained anterior cruciate ligament in his knee were a game day deactivation for the second straight week.

Backup fullback Nick Williams got plenty work and rookie running back Curtis Keaton even got in the same backfield with Corey Dillon and ran a mini-reverse for eight yards.

Also inactive for the Bengals Sunday was wide receiver Damon Griffin.

INJURY UPDATE: It looks like LT John Jackson (hamstring) has a chance to play in Dallas.

SHARPE TAKE II: Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe began the week talking and ended it talking. He found time between syllables Sunday to catch seven passes for 66 yards and two touchdowns.

On the first score, an 18-yard pass from quarterback Trent Dilfer , Sharpe outdueled free safety Darryl Williams in the end zone.

Williams said, "The angle was messed up. He threw the ball, where it had to be. I had his inside, but he threw it outside."

"I've said it before," Sharpe said. "This a team that we know we should dominate. In the first half, we dominated. We didn't play well in the second half, but that's what happens when you get big leads like that. Your attention span is not where it needs to be."

Ravens coach Brian Billick said his club felt Sharpe could do damage because, "they do a lot of dropping the safeties down, we felt if we could get him on the second level, one on one with the safeties and corners, we could score."

FACT OF THE DAY: Former Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake threw for 275 yards Sunday in the Saints' 31-15 victory over San Francisco. Smith has 255 yards in the past three games.

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