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Bengals lose in front of about 30,000 fans

12/15/2002

CINCINNATI (AP) -- So, how would the NFL's worst team blow this
one? More goal-line follies? A left-handed pass, perhaps? Maybe a
fumble or interception?

Question on the Jags: Is QB Mark Brunell back next season or is it time to bring in new blood?
When you think about Jacksonville, you think about Brunell, WR Jimmy Smith, RB Fred Taylor and coach Tom Coughlin. I doubt if all four will be back next season. Of the four, Smith is most likely to return, and given Taylor's good health this season, I expect him to be back. So it's probably between Brunell and Coughlin. I don't believe the Jags can turn their fortunes around if both are back next year.

Question on the Bengals: Any chance that LeBeau will be retained?
Yes, because he has one year left on his contract. The way the Bengals run their organization, they're not about to give away free money. So I think he'll be back. But the Bengals won't win until they bring in a competent GM. They need to bring their organization into the new millennium in terms of scouting and personnel.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

Nope. This time, the Cincinnati Bengals flunked math.

Because the Bengals couldn't get the right number of players on
the field for a punt return, the Jacksonville Jaguars got the
second chance they needed for a 29-15 victory Sunday.

The smallest crowd ever at Paul Brown Stadium watched Mark Brunell throw a season-high three touchdown passes, the last one
set up by Cincinnati's inability to count.

"That was a major error,'' Bengals coach Dick LeBeau said.
"We've got coaches counting, we've got players counting, and we
still can't count to 11.''

Trying to hold a third-quarter lead, the Bengals (1-13) left 12
men on the field when Jacksonville (6-8) punted into the end zone.
The Jaguars accepted the penalty, which set up fourth-and-1, and
sent the offense back onto the field.

Stacey Mack ran 8 yards for the first down, and the Jaguars
faced fourth-and-6 four plays later. They went for it again, and
Jimmy Smith ran past Jeff Burris for a 26-yard touchdown catch.

"I was like, 'What are we saving it for? Let's go out and go
for it,''' said Smith, who had seven catches for 98 yards.

The touchdown put the Jaguars ahead to stay and set the Bengals
on their way to their 13th loss, tying the franchise record.
They've had five 13-loss seasons during their 12-year run as the
league's most woeful franchise.

"It always comes down to: We shoot ourselves in the foot,''
safety Cory Hall said. "You put 12 men on the field -- that's high
school, that's college, that's peewee. Every team does it, but when
we do it, it's usually at a critical part of the game. It's
mind-boggling. It seems like it only happens to us.''

The Jaguars were starting to get the same feeling after Tim Couch's last-second 50-yard pass gave the Browns a 21-20 victory in
Jacksonville last Sunday, a defeat that turned up the heat on Jags
coach Tom Coughlin.

On Sunday, Brunell was the coach's biggest ally. Brunell was
19-of-28 for 223 yards with three touchdowns, and he made his
coach's fourth-down gambles turn out right.

"I was pleasantly surprised,'' Brunell said of Coughlin's
bravado. "But Tom has confidence in our offense in those critical
situations. For us to get a touchdown out of that drive was huge.''

Fred Taylor ran for 71 yards and Stacey Mack had a 3-yard TD run
early in the fourth quarter, sending fans to the exits.

The Bengals sold only 42,092 tickets for their second-to-last
home game, their smallest gate in the stadium's three years. The
actual attendance was around 30,000, and most fans were so
disinterested that they didn't even bother to stand for the
kickoff.

Jacksonville felt right at home in a quiet, half-empty stadium.
The Jaguars sold only 46,267 tickets last Sunday for their loss to
the Browns.

Much of the game was as sloppy as the grass field, which came
out in clumps near the sidelines and made for treacherous footing.

The Bengals' record-tying loss had an appropriately strange
ending. Brunell went to his knee on fourth down, the clock ran out
and players walked onto the field and shook hands. But the referees
realized that the clock should have stopped with 5 seconds left
because there was a change of possession.

Players reluctantly shuffled back to the sidelines, the Bengals
took a knee and then ran off while a few dozen fans jeered. One fan
held up a sign that read, "Mike Brown, Bozo Of The NFL,''
referring to the Bengals' president.

Game notes
In 13 career games against Cincinnati, Brunell has thrown
23 touchdown passes, his best total against any team. ... DT John Henderson was credited with half of a sack, leaving him one-half
shy of the Jaguars' rookie record. Tony Brackens had seven sacks in
1996. ... Taylor had four catches, giving him a career-high 46 for
the season. ... Mack's ninth TD tied his career high. ...
Cincinnati's Corey Dillon had only 59 yards on 21 carries. In 10
games against Jacksonville, he has reached 100 yards only once.