Titans provide measuring stick

8-24-03, 6:30 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is a theme guy.

Whether it's taking them to a movie before a game or taking them to school after one, he likes to break everything down for his team into Power Point clarity. On Saturday night, he had plenty of help from a well put together presentation by a Tennessee team that looked to be headed back to the AFC championship game in reminding the Bengals how far they are from getting there during a 23-15 loss at Paul Brown Stadium.

"My message today is we went out there and played a good football team and we figured out what it takes to win in the NFL," Lewis said. "You can't leave plays on the field. You've got to make the plays and convert and score when you've got the opportunity to score. That football team, when you don't do it that way, they find you. You can't hide from them. They've got some good players, they've been together (for a while) and today we figured that out."

What the Bengals figured out again is you can't have three more turnovers than the other team and not come out of the red zone twice with any points. Not after finishing last in the AFC in 2002 with a minus-15 turnover ratio and next-to-last in the AFC in touchdown percentage in the red zone. Which is how you finish 18th in offense, 17th in defense, and finish with the 32nd record in the league.

It's how Tennessee finished 17th in offense, but still made it to the NFL's Final Four because they were plus-four in turnovers.

It really is a simple game.

And, yet,. it was still a one-touchdown game.

"Whether you play well, or win, or stink it up, it's hard to get excited about any of it at this point," said linebacker Brian Simmons. "We made some mistakes, but I don't think it's a game to bang our heads against the wall. We stopped them on some short fields, we had a chance to win it. I just think we're going to have a pretty good football team from what I've seen."

Quarterback Jon Kitna remained calm.

"That's what the preseason is for. I totally expect these things will get cleared up this week and we'll play better against Indianapolis," said Kitna of Friday's pre-season finale. "The concern is the turnovers have been self-inflicted. That's the concern. We have to understand that sometimes we'll have some of that as a young football team."

The missed chances not only came in the red zone or on turnovers, but also failing to finish off big

chances. Without getting sacked, the three Tennessee quarterbacks were able to get nearly a half (143) of their 313 passing yards by completing eight out of 10 passes on third down.

"We've got time to get it fixed before September 7th," Simmons said. "But that has to become the focus. We have to be able to look at the game and realize that is what is occurring. It's not necessarily what other teams are doing to us. It's what we're doing to ourselves. We have to worry about what we can control and the big thing there is minimizing what you do wrong."

Kitna calls it, "getting out of our own way." The Bengals' inability to come up with a big play juxtaposed with Tennessee's opportunism:

After Neil Rackers missed a 49-yard field goal on the Bengals' second series, Titans punter Craig Hentrich unleashed one of his patented knuckle balls and T.J.. Houshmandzadeh fumbled away the fair catch at his own 16.

"You judge on just the things you do as a team, and yet you have more of the guys who are going to be playing significantly on Sept. 7 in that first half, and that was disappointing defensively," Lewis said. "Offensively, we dropped the one ball; we batted a ball in the air. The good things are we've punted three times now in two football games. We're moving the football (but) we're stopping ourselves with our own errors — our own adjustments — and things like that, which aren't good enough. We've got to do better than that. We turned the ball over again tonight and we didn't get any. That's significant in the football game."

The stoning on the goal line had the Bengals perturbed. They pulled their prized athletic rookie left guard, Eric Steinbach, to the right side on fourth-and-one and couldn't get in. One of the reasons they went for more athleticism on the line is because of what happened on the goal line with 1:08 left in a 30-24 loss to Tennessee last year, when Corey Dillon got tangled with pulling left guard Matt O'Dwyer after O'Dwyer slipped.

"Different guys. Different team. Doesn't mean anything," said Lewis about the similarities. "But there's no question you have to get in there. That's what wins football games.

"It's done, it's in the past, we've got to look at the film, and get better," said center Mike Goff, who was playing right guard with the second group on the play. "You need to capitalize. You have to score touchdowns in the red zone. It doesn't matter that we had good, long drives. They're only good if you get points out of them."

Johnson knew the Titans sent their linebackers to fill, but he's not sure if they guessed right and sent one more than the Bengals had blocked.

"I couldn't tell, but we're going to get it right," Johnson said.

They have to. When Chad Johnson heard Lewis' quote about not being able to beat Denver the way they played Saturday night, he agreed.

"What he's saying is that we can't go up and down the field and not score," Johnson said. "We've got to get points and touchdowns because of the way we're moving the ball."

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