Will real Bengals stand up?

10-21-01, 10:35 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Any resemblance between these Odd Couple Bengals who showed up Sunday and got vaporized by the Bears and the Bengals who manhandled the Browns last week is purely coincidental.

When the Bengals win, they are Felix Unger efficient.

They have thrown no interceptions and averaged 141 yards on the ground on the way to scoring 23 points per victory while holding teams to an average of 57 yards rushing and 14 points.

When the Bengals lose, they are Oscar Madison sloppy.

They have thrown five interceptions and averaged 70 yards rushing on the way to just seven points per loss while giving up an average of 204 yards on the ground and 23 points.

At 3-3, will the real Bengals please stand up? Felix or Oscar?

"The frustrating part is we've done it before," said Bengals middle linebacker Brian Simmons Sunday as he picked up the pieces of Chicago's 24-0 rout at Paul Brown Stadium.

"We've won games when we've been behind and our defense has stopped the run and shut down offenses," Simmons said. "And then to come out on a day like this and pretty much just be out there. . .That's disappointing."

None were more disappointed than the 63,408 who sold out Paul Brown Stadium for the second straight week against a Bears' team deemed beatable for a team that was 3-0 at home. The crowd sensed a huge swing in the franchise's fortunes. A win Sunday against a Chicago club mired 29th in NFL offense would lead to another win next week at winless Detroit, sending the Bengals into the Nov. 4 bye week at 5-2 for the first time since the 1990 playoff run.

But the sellout headed for the hills before the fourth quarter dawned. And who last week could have imagined Bears quarterback Jim Miller saying about a Chicago offense that hadn't averaged 80 rushing yards per game:

"Our offensive line was kicking their fannies. You guys think I'm crazy, that defensive line wanted no part of our offensive line."?

Most of the Bengals downplayed the season-long impact of the game with Bengals defensive captain Takeo Spikes saying, "That's the problem. People make it seem like the end of the world just because we lost a game at home. You've got to move on."

Spikes and his mates prefer to look at the fact they are tied with the Super Bowl champion Ravens at 3-3 in the AFC Central, just 1.5 games out of first place and a game behind the second-place Browns. The same Browns they dominated last week.

But there is also concern about that lack of consistency. The Bengals thought they were beyond games like this, games in which a rookie like Anthony Thomas with just 25 NFL carries comes into a game and sets the Bears' rookie rushing record with 188 yards on 8.5 yards per pop.

"We have to find a way to be consistent," Simmons said. "Your best teams are not a lot better than everybody. They're just more consistent. Their worst day isn't as bad as everybody else's. Your best game and your worst game, there can't be a large gap there. Right

now, we have to find that median and we can't find it. We're still learning. No question about that."

The faithful won't like to hear that because that's been the refrain for the past several years. But the leader of the offense agreed.

"We're a young team," said quarterback Jon Kitna. We're a team that doesn't have a lot of veterans that have been there and done that. It's a young team, so you're going to have to ride that wave a little bit. We had quite a few injuries this week that's not an excuse but that's a contributing factor to the ups and downs. I think the biggest thing is we just seem to have a hard time bouncing back from a mistake."

Injuries did make the Bengals young on defense. With starting left end Vaughn Booker out with a sprained ankle and cornerback Robert Bean injured in the second quarter (hamstring), tackle Mario Monds and backup cornerback Bo Jennings got their first NFL action Sunday.

Jennings, with the club four days, found himself covering first-round pick David Terrell and gave up a 41-yard play. And cornerback Mark Roman made just his third NFL start as the Bears wide receivers caught 222 yards despite the loss of prime target Marcus Robinson in the second quarter with a serious knee injury.

"When he got hurt, that changed their game plan," said cornerback Artrell Hawkins. "They were looking down field, but after Marcus Robinson got hurt they went to crossing patterns and out cuts. They did open up the middle a little bit."

No one could explain what happened in the running game, which is rapidly making history the wrong way after getting beefed up the offseason. Two weeks after giving up their most rushing yards since 1972 to the Steelers (274), the Bengals allowed Thomas to have the sixth best rushing game ever against a Cincinnati club.

Observers noted Bears center Olin Kreutz seemed to have his way in the middle with defensive tackle Oliver Gibson. Particularly on the key 46-yard run that set up the Bears' touchdown that made it 10-0. The 6-1, 230-pound Thomas shot up the middle and cut back to daylight.

"It was just like before," said Gibson of the poor games against the run in San Diego and Pittsburgh. "We overpursued, we missed some tackles, and they kept us off-balanced with the seven-yard pass."

Simmons hates these kind of games. If they lose because they ran out of time or the other team made two or three more plays, fine.

But, "it's disappointing to lose in the manner we lost," Simmons said. "We didn't give ourselves a chance to win by not even doing the simple things. Like stopping the run."

At the next locker, Spikes said it would be OK. There would be no long losing streaks like before. P>"The difference between now and the last few years," Spikes said, "is that we have the answer right here in this room. Before, we didn't have it. But it's here and it's up to the players and coaches to find it."

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