After '03 surprise, Bengals to play on Monday night

M. Lewis' team will return to national TV spotlight for first time in 12 years

Pro Football

April 15, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The progress Marvin Lewis achieved last year with the Cincinnati Bengals wasn't confined to on-field performance. Yesterday, the resurgent Bengals were awarded their first Monday night game in 12 years.

Under Lewis, their first-year coach, the Bengals went 7-9 and finished second to the Ravens in the AFC North. When the league's 2004 schedule was announced, it reflected the shift in power within the division.

While the Ravens drew four prime-time games, the Bengals received two, including a Sunday night game.

The Cleveland Browns will play twice on Sunday night, including once in Baltimore, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have just one Sunday night game.

"This is the national spotlight, and we're excited about the opportunity," Lewis said in a statement. "If you're in the NFL, you want to be playing on Monday and Sunday night."

The Bengals' last Monday night appearance came on Oct. 19, 1992, at Pittsburgh in a 20-0 loss. Their last home Monday night game was on Sept. 25, 1989, against Cleveland.

Each AFC North team will get its bye week in October on successive weeks. The Browns finish their division schedule the earliest, in Week 12.

Each of the AFC North teams got relatively balanced schedules. The Ravens and Bengals get back-to-back road games only once, the Browns and Steelers twice.

The only team in the league that drew three consecutive road games was the Tennessee Titans, who will visit their three AFC South opponents in a three-week span from Nov. 21 to Dec. 5.

The toughest schedule in the league, however, belongs to the Buffalo Bills, who play four of five games on the road in November and December. Among those four trips are two to the West Coast (Seattle and San Francisco).

The NFL season will open for the third straight year with a Thursday night game. This one sends the Indianapolis Colts back to New England to face the Patriots on Sept. 9 in a rematch of the AFC championship game.

Three days later, Joe Gibbs makes his debut - second time around - with the Washington Redskins at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Dallas Cowboys earned the most prime-time minutes with the maximum three Monday night games, their annual Thanksgiving Day game and a Sunday night game to close the regular season.

Four other teams drew three Monday night games: the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs. The Eagles are 13-1 in prime time, including the playoffs, under coach Andy Reid.

The Super Bowl champion Patriots will play two games on Monday night in addition to their Thursday opener, and have a Sunday night game as well for a total of four prime-time games.

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