BY GEOFF HOBSON
Even that long-time Bengals' critic, Shannon Sharpe, thinks there might be a thaw in the Cincinnati tundra he recently called the NFL's version of Siberia.
Sharpe, the Ravens tight end who made the comment the week after Baltimore drilled the Bengals, 37-0, saluted the job coach Dick LeBeau has done in going 2-3 since taking over for Bruce Coslet the day after the Sept. 24 debacle in Baltimore.
"The best thing that happened is Coslet left and LeBeau came in with a new attitude," Sharpe told the Cincinnati media Wednesday in a conference call.
"I said it all along. There are too many No. 1(draft) picks, too many good players not to be better (with) respect with wins and losses than they are. . .They've got a guy in there they believe in, that they love playing for. . ."
Sharpe thinks the Siberian days and nights could be over because, "They beat a very good Broncos team. Anytime you get an NFL record and complete two passes, that speaks volumes about your offensive line and when they need to make a play, the defense came up with one."
Before they beat the Browns last week, the Bengals said they weren't the same team that lost to Cleveland, 24-7, Sept. 10. They know this isn't the team that got pummeled in Baltimore.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out," said Bengals defensive lineman John Copeland. "People from far away and people on the inside can see we're different now."
Sharpe, who is more of a political scientist, had less kind words for Coslet.
"I really don't have a whole lot of respect for him walking out on his team after he fought so hard to keep that job," Sharpe said. "After he talked to Mike Brown about keeping that job and how he wanted to go in the right direction, and all of a sudden the pressure was too much for him he and he couldn't handle it and all of a sudden it wasn't fun anymore."
The Bengals' locker room didn't quite know what to make of Sharpe's remarks regarding Coslet. One of Sharpe's offseason workout partners, Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes, said he couldn't speak for Coslet and didn't want to get into his business.
But the Bengals can understand why they are punch lines for guys like Sharpe. He isn't the first one to put the Bengals and Siberia in the same sentence.
"We have every reason in the world not to have any respect for what we've done in the '90s and what we've done at this point starting off 0-6," said Bengals quarterback Akili Smith. "If a team tells us to our face they don't respect us, they shouldn't. We haven't been playing well. But now we're on a two-game winning streak and we have the opportunity to start silencing those critics and playing good football."
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Spikes is used to verbal jousts with Sharpe and Ravens running back Jamal Lewis. They spiced their offseason workouts with them.
When Sharpe left Denver for Baltimore and the AFC Central, Spikes warned him he had to worry about Bengals middle linebacker Brian Simmons and not him because Simmons would be covering him.
Spikes didn't hear the "Siberia," stuff. Linebacker Adrian Ross told him.
"It motivates me. I take it to heart. I take it personally," Spikes said. "Because those guys look at our team as being nothing at all. . . .We see as a whole what everybody thinks of us. In the back of their mind I know . . .we're going to go in there and compete and contend.
"We need the fans to be behind us and make it as loud as possible," Spikes said. "This game is big for everybody."
Sharpe is ready to follow brother Sterling into the network analyst business. He's got a grip on how LeBeau has turned this thing around with players responding to five starters getting benched for lack of productivity.
"(LeBeau) wants 11 guys who are going to play," Sharpe said. "Maybe the best 11 guys might not be a first-rounder. You might be a free agent, but you're playing better than the first-rounder. Guess who's going to play in the ballgame? Guys love that. Guys (say), 'Don't play me because I make X amount of dollars, or because I went high in the draft. Play me because I'm the better guy for the job."
How about that? Shannon Sharpe sounded like a Cincinnati Bengal.