9-9-03, 10:05 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Willie Anderson, limping back into the locker room to get taped just before halftime Sunday, stared at the fan in the stands screaming at him.
"I won't tell you what he was questioning, but he was questioning," Anderson said the day after. "I didn't say anything. I just looked at him and thought, 'The day is going to come I'm going to look at you and you'll be screaming our names and saying good stuff.'"
In the aftermath of the 30-10 loss to Denver that opened the season so shakily, the Bengals began the familiar ritual of circling the wagons. If criticism can't be heaped on Lewis because of the unwritten one-season honeymoon for coaches, quarterback Jon Kitna is the guy spinning on the spit.
"It's ridiculous, stupid," said rookie quarterback Carson Palmer of the chants to put him in the game. "Jon is going to be starting the whole year. . .I feel bad they're that quick to turn on him."
So the Bengals rallied around Kitna after his shower of boos, and head coach Marvin Lewis appealed to his team to relax.
"There is so much pressure put on everyone in this building. There is more pressure put from the outside," Lewis said. "Sometimes our players feel like they have to go out and win the game by themselves. You can't play that way. That's just the situation we're in, and as pros, we have to get out of that. That's how we played. You know, 'I'm going to go win the game by myself.' You can't play football that way."
Lewis would call that selfish play, but all indications are he didn't peel paint off the walls Monday. "He wasn't too brutal and he wasn't too nice," Anderson said.
"He's a professional," said defensive tackle Oliver Gibson. "Why does everyone want him to just lose it?
"We're not playing like we're having a whole lot of fun," Gibson said. "We're playing like we're afraid to make mistakes."
Lewis pointed out some of those mistakes on film Monday, but there was no Parcellsian outburst for them or the media.
"The whole thing has been imploded around us in the past. Right now we're moving forward," Lewis said. "This is just a bump in the road. We knew this bump could occur. We didn't know how it would be. It would still be a bump if it was 21-17, because we've invested a lot and we didn't win."
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski chalked it up to losing poise early in the game and never being able to recover. Anderson thought the offensive line let down Kitna.
"It all starts up front and everybody had their (bad) plays," Anderson said. "There were numerous plays we didn't block or did the wrong assignment. I take responsibility for some of that. And they booed Jon Kitna. That hurt me when I heard that. I know how badly he wants to win and how much he prepares. People just don't see that."
Lewis doesn't want to be known as a Flim-Flam Man who filled Paul Brown Stadium with smoke and mirrors but has no plan or hope for the long haul. That's why Kitna is his quarterback and he's sticking to the plan. But Lewis would like Kitna to play a little more relaxed.
OK, not as relaxed as that one play Sunday, when he tried to throw a shovel pass that got turned into a 12-yard interception return.
"It was a big day. That's why I tried to put the pressure on me, so they could just go out and play," Lewis said. " Don't do anything different. It's a big day for the city, but you just go play football. We were a little unnerved. We've got some new nerves to go through this week, going on the road and playing in Oakland home opener. So it will probably be one hell of an environment for us to get ready to play in."
Lewis seemed to agree with Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe that Kitna played Sunday like he was looking over his shoulder at Palmer. But Kitna insisted that wasn't the case.
"We're trying to compete. We're trying to win the football game and it's hard to get programmed to just take a sack some tine," Kitna said. "(Or) throwing the ball a few yards on third-and-15. It's hard to get used to those things. Once it blows up in your face, you shouldn't have done that.You're trying to win the ball game. You want to do everything you can to do that. That was the problem (Sunday). As a quarterback, sometimes you have to eat the football."
Bratkowski says it's hard to pick out Kitna when everyone else around him struggled.
"Trust me, he had a lot of help. We all should have been booed," Bratkowski said. "You could take the whole offensive team. I've seen him play a lot better, but one game is one game. It was one poor game by us, but we've got time. You can't make knee-jerk reactions over one game."
Anderson has no plans to sit out Sunday despite injuring his hamstring in the first quarter last Sunday. It will be his 50th straight start, the highest on the team with running back Corey Dillon.
"I'm not the kind of guy that's going to be in here putting on his street clothes during the game," Anderson said. "Not when guys like Levi Jones and Matt O'Dwyer are still out there battling for us."
That us-against-them attitude is what the Bengals appear to be adopting for the next game that not many give them much of a shot to win on the road against the defending AFC champ Raiders.
"He should be able to tough it out," Lewis said of Anderson. "He's a tough man."