9-29-03, 4:30 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
CLEVELAND _ Trust.
Trust is at the core of Marvin Lewis' philosophy for rebuilding the Bengals. Trust between players. Trust between players and coaches. Trust between coaches. On Sunday, trust turned out to be a major factor in giving the Bengals their first victory of the season and the first victory of his NFL head coaching career.
"Marvin Lewis is going to be the next great coach in this league," said quarterback Jon Kitna. "He has a tremendous understanding of giving the players the things they need, but not giving them too much."
Kitna trusted wide receiver Chad Johnson was going to be there for the first two touchdowns of the game, the second of which turned the game decisively and quickly to Cincinnati that tied the game with 29 seconds left in the first half on one of Johnson's vintage down-the field quick strikes on a quickasthis post.
"It's a play we've run since training camp and I told him just to run. I don't care what the coverage is," said Kitna of the 55-yard pass that stunned the Browns. "I didn't even see Chad. I just threw it where I knew he was going to be."
After surviving a frightening car accident on Interstate 74 late Friday night/early Saturday morning, cornerback Jeff Burris' teammates rallied to his side. On Sunday afternoon, he wanted to be at their side and came out of the locker with a strained neck after halftime to make the final play of the game, an interception of Browns quarterback Tim Couch on the Browns 28 with 51 seconds left in the game.
"The guys around here were just incredible. I heard from guys like Dennis (Weathersby) and Tory (James)," Burris said. "It makes you feel committed to the team."
With less than a minute left in the first half and looking at second down from his own 21 and his team trailing, Lewis was thinking, "Why not go for it?" Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski was thinking the same thing and had a play in mind. But
first, Lewis wanted to try some underneath stuff.
"If they throw me the ball," Johnson said, "I'm going to go up and get it."
That's what Johnson did to tie the game at seven on a three-yard catch in the first quarter. On a third-and-three, Kitna had his arm hit on penetration from defensive tackle Orpheus Roye and a safety blitz. But he knew Johnson was one-on-one with cornerback Anthony Henry near the left corner of the end zone.
"Anytime you get Chad singled up in coverage," Kitna said, "you're pretty much going to throw it to him."
Couch threw it to Burris on what amounted to the last play of the game, a sequence he certainly didn't see when he spent part of early Saturday morning in an Indiana emergency room. Burris was driving back to Cincinnati from his Indianapolis home for Saturday morning's walk through when he fell asleep at the wheel and slammed his front end into a guard rail. He emerged shaken, and with a sore neck and numb shoulder, but alive.
When Burris didn't show at Paul Brown Stadium in the morning, word got around fast. Burris, one of team's spiritual leaders as Bible study leader and the political leader as the club's representative to the NFL Players Association, is one of the most visible and popular players in the locker room.
"Our savior has a way of humbling you and opening your eyes to a lot of situations," Burris said. "We think a lot of things are extraordinary, but they're all the small things (that matter) when it comes to simplicity in life, and that's what you need to do."
Things got complicated that night for Burris, whose family usually comes down to visit him on Wednesdays and Thursdays during the season at his Cincinnati apartment after he spends the day off at his Indy home Monday night to Tuesday night.
But this past week, there was no one to stay with the kids, his wife had a test Saturday morning for one of her classes, and Burris had to get to the airport to pick up his mother Friday night. By the time he got on the road, it was raining, and he figured he nodded off about an hour outside Indianapolis.
"I was tired and sore, but you got that athlete's mentality that you can make it," Burris said.
After an ER examination revealed Burris had a sore left side of his neck, his wife insisted he spend the night at home and Burris met the team Saturday afternoon at the airport for the flight here.
Of course, his weekend was just beginning. Early in the game, Burris got drilled in the head area on a screen pass by a 300-pound offensive tackle.
"I was worried about the neck after the accident," Burris said.
"You start wondering about what kind of luck this guy has," said cornerback Artrell Hawkins. "You're asking, 'Do I want to stand next to him on the sidelines?"
But Burris came back to be with his teammates and he still had that athlete's mentality. Couch had just hit wide receiver Andre' Davis on a 16-yard hook in front of Burris to put the ball on the Bengals 45.
"We were in a soft Cover 2 shell and that's the kind of route you're going to attack it with," Burris said. "I kind of anticipated it. Between the corner and the safety on the outside. When we were on the sideline, Hawk kept telling us, 'We need to make a play. We need to make a play. We need to make a play.' Fortunately we did."
Burris cut in front of Browns wide receiver Kevin Johnson, and resident Bengal killer (he still was the game's leading receiver with 89 yards) for the pick, and started to run even though Hawkins tried to re-direct him out of bounds because the game was over since Cleveland had no timeouts left.
"I saw Coach Lewis yelling at me and I got out," Burris said.
Which is what Lewis has been doing all along. Coaching and preaching and telling them that it's the right way. On Sunday, he got some hard evidence he's on the right track with the rarest of Bengal moments: A division win on the road.
"It's a long time coming," Kitna said. "At 0-3 people, could start to doubt the things we've been doing. But now they can see we're sticking with the plan, and it works."