When it's late, Bengals get going Comeback victories become regular feature with Coslet, Blake

September 04, 1997|By Geoff Hobson | Geoff Hobson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CINCINNATI -- Bengals coach Bruce Coslet doesn't know how many more of these he can take.

But his boss does.

"I would say that's our miracle for the year," said club president Mike Brown, after watching the Bengals score 21 points in Sunday's final 14 minutes to stun Arizona, 24-21. "I've seen a lot of comebacks in 30 years. But that had to be our most improbable."

Improbable? Sunday's victory made the Bengals' 14-point fourth quarter last year in Baltimore look like a rout. In the "Miracle at Memorial" on Nov. 3 in which Cincinnati trailed 21-3 at halftime, the Bengals forged their biggest road comeback on two Doug Pelfrey field goals in the final 1: 49 to win, 24-21.

But in Sunday's "Revision at Riverfront," deadline writers crumbled as the Bengals had to score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. They got their last shot even after a late onside kick failed. Then Arizona's usually reliable Larry Centers (one fumble on 215 touches last year) fumbled at the Cincinnati 37 with 70 seconds left.

"We just kept playing. We figured if we got the ball to them enough, the offense would score enough," said outside linebacker Gerald Dixon, the former Cleveland Brown who stripped Centers.

Even then, quarterback Jeff Blake had no timeouts and the "We want Boomer" chant still burning in his ears from earlier in the game from surly fans looking for backup quarterback Boomer Esiason.

But the Cardinals took care of that when they gave Blake the sidelines. He responded by hitting five of six passes, the last a 6-yard touchdown pass to Carl Pickens with 38 seconds left. Blake hit on 10 of his last 11 passes, finishing with 252 yards, 137 of them coming in the final 4: 45.

"That's nothing," Coslet said. "Go back and look at the tapes from his senior year at East Carolina. He did that every game. Tough kid. That's something about all these guys. They don't seem to care about how deep the hole is. Of course, we'd rather not do it that way."

In the 1992 Peach Bowl, Blake erased a 34-17 deficit in the final 8: 41 against North Carolina State. Now five years later, he's starting to challenge John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Harbaugh as the author of NFL comebacks.

Since Coslet took over for Dave Shula before Game 8 last season, the Bengals have come from behind in the fourth quarter four times. Six of Coslet's 10 victories have come when the club trailed at halftime.

Cincinnati's rally on the 116-degree turf at Cinergy Field on Sunday drove home the point players have been pounding all training camp. The reasons for the strong second halves are crisp "game-like" practices and Coslet's post-practice regimen that includes sprints on certain days.

"Their defense had their tongues out," tight end Marco Battaglia said. "It was wild looking at them. They were gasping in the fourth quarter."

But the Bengals are spending this week trying to make sure they don't get into such a massive hole. And Coslet started Monday morning when he looked in the mirror and reflected on Sunday's tension.

"I think it got to me, too," Coslet said. "I'll be honest about it. There's a lot of people looking at us.

"[We] just got tighter and tighter. They knew the significance of this game; they knew the importance of the home opener; and until they settled down, we looked like we looked. It wasn't good enough. Then we settled down and made play after play."

If the Bengals can get their minds set, they have plenty of Xs and Os to worry about this Sunday against the Ravens. Before they shut him down for 60 yards in the final 20 minutes, Arizona journeyman quarterback Kent Graham had a career day, converting seven of his first nine third-down conversions with an array of short, quick passes through Cincinnati's zone blitz scheme.

Arizona allowed no sacks with maximum protection blocking, in which the Cards kept as many as nine blockers on some pass plays.

The Reinard Wilson-Jonathan Ogden matchup should worry the Bengals. Wilson, the 250-pound rookie right outside linebacker the Bengals took in the first round, has had mixed results against the NFL's big tackles. But he rushed about only four or five times in the opener, spending about 80 percent of the time in pass coverage. And he did cause mayhem in the final series, when he deflected a Graham pass.

"Baltimore can move the ball," Brown said. "Look at what happened down there last year. They went right up and down the field on us."

NOTE: Bengals backup guard Scott Brumfield's return to Memorial Stadium caps a remarkable story. That's where his career nearly ended last Nov. 3 when he suffered a spinal injury in a collision that left him temporarily paralyzed. After exhaustive rehab, he was ready for the first snap of training camp.

Brumfield, who worked one play at right guard against the Cards, is looking forward to seeing friends he made during his stay at the University of Maryland's Shock Trauma Center.

Bengals at a glance Record: 1-0.

Last week: Defeated Arizona, 24-21.

Last meeting against Ravens: Cincinnati won, 21-14, on Dec. 8, 1996 at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati.

Who's hot: Former No. 1 pick Ki-Jana Carter posted career highs in rushing yards (76 on 19 carries) and receiving yards (40 on two receptions) and scored two touchdowns Sunday. Wide receiver Carl Pickens led the team with eight receptions, including the game-winning touchdown catch with 38 seconds remaining. Free safety Greg Myers recorded a team-high 11 tackles in his first NFL start. Inside linebackers Ricardo McDonald and Tom Tumulty each made 10 tackles.

Who's not: Dan Wilkinson made two tackles in his first start at defensive end in the team's new 3-4 alignment. The defense did not have any sacks, and the offensive line allowed quarterback Jeff Blake to be sacked four times. Punter Lee Johnson averaged 39.8 yards on six kicks.

Pub Date: 9/04/97

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