Bengals are parody of parity

Finding new way to lose puts league's worst team for past 11 years at 0-7

Pro Football

NFL Week 8 in review

October 29, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The Cincinnati Bengals are a never-ending source of wonder in the self-help NFL.

For a decade now, they have resisted the benefits of picking high in the draft. For years, they have been impervious to the gains of free agency. And while teams rise and fall on a regular cycle, the Bengals remain immune to the laws of NFL parity.

In Week 8, they even found a way to send back a victory. They tackled their own man.

On Tennessee's one-inch line.

Corey Dillon had an open lane and blockers in front of him on fourth down from the Titans' 1-yard line Sunday. A touchdown effectively wins the game.

But Dillon, a Pro Bowl running back, never made the longest yard. With the end zone beckoning, he had to lunge over falling guard Matt O'Dwyer. The hole closed, Dillon dived and came up with nothing more than grass.

He insisted he had gotten to the goal line. Replays were inconclusive. The Bengals lost, 30-24.

"They're the officials," Dillon told the Cincinnati Enquirer after the game. "We're Cincinnati. We don't get a call."

With plays like that, why should they? O'Dwyer, the pulling left guard, clipped the heel of quarterback Jon Kitna, went down and took the team's first win with him.

The Bengals (0-7) are the only winless team in the league. They are so bad they will be three-point underdogs next week against the Houston Texans, an expansion team playing just its eighth game.

Under team owner/president Mike Brown, the Bengals have become the laughingstock of the NFL. They went to two Super Bowls under the stewardship of Hall of Famer Paul Brown in the 1980s. But starting with his death in 1991 - and the rise to power of Mike Brown - the Bengals have been the worst team in the league at 53-130.

They haven't had a winning season, or a playoff team, in the last 11 years, despite a system designed to reinforce the downtrodden through the draft, free agency and waiver rules.

The draft? The Bengals have had seven top-five picks in the last 11 years. Not one of them has gone to the Pro Bowl (Dillon was a second-round pick in 1997).

Free agency? No self-respecting free agent wants to go to Cincinnati. Those that do often play their way out of the league. Quarterback Gus Frerotte signed with the Bengals this season and lasted three games. Wide receiver Michael Westbrook signed with the Bengals after he couldn't get an offer elsewhere. He isn't playing now.

The Bengals make brutal personnel decisions. Faced with a failing Frerotte in September and backup Kitna, the team started Akili Smith in Week 4 against Tampa Bay. Smith, the third pick in the 1999 draft, had been relegated to scout team quarterback. Against the NFL's best defense, he bombed. Not surprising.

The Bengals benched him the next week and turned back to Kitna. But why not stick with Smith and try to develop a franchise quarterback on a team that hasn't had one since it sent Boomer Esiason into the Monday night TV booth? Why just waste the third pick in the draft?

That's the Bengals.

Disenchantment is so high in Cincinnati that a few weeks ago, Hamilton County commissioners asked the county prosecutor to review the team's lease at Paul Brown Stadium. They wanted to see if there was a breach of contract for failing to field a competitive team.

That will go nowhere, nor will a fans' petition to get commissioner Paul Tagliabue to force Brown to hire a football man to run the team. Even though there is precedent - Pete Rozelle persuaded feuding New York Giants' co-owners to hire George Young as general manager in 1978 - Tagliabue can only hope that fan unrest convinces Brown to seek help in his front office.

The Bengals are locked in a countdown to 16 losses. No NFL team has ever gone 0-16. After Houston, Cincinnati visits the Ravens in Week 9. No team wants to be the first to lose to the Bengals. The Titans escaped that ignominy when Dillon couldn't cover the last yard.

But maybe that game wasn't so close after all. The Bengals still had to kick the extra point.

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