WR Peter Warrick is trying to reach Bengal ground formerly only trod on by Carl Pickens
Lorenzo Neal played only one season in a Tampa Bay uniform, but he left a lasting impression.
We mean that figuratively, of course, but some Buc opponents in 1998 might argue for the literal interpretation, if they can still feel number 41's shoulder in their chest.
Neal was for the Bucs, and now is for the Cincinnati Bengals, a premier blocking fullback, a player that lives to create holes for the tailback. He filled that role very well for the Bucs in '98, when the team averaged 134.3 rushing yards per game, the second-best average in team history.
Coincidentally, Neal last suited up for the Bucs in Cincinnati, where the team finished an 8-8 regular season with a 35-0 victory over the Bengals. Sunday's game, in Cincy's new Paul Brown Stadium, will mark the first time since that day that Tampa Bay has played against Neal, who spent the 1999 and 2000 seasons in Tennessee.
They should expect the same player they remember from '98.
"I think about domination on the field," said Neal of his playing style. "I'm looking for a linebacker to hit. I'm trying to use good technique and leverage, and I'm trying to hit 'em in the mouth - hard. If you hit a person, it's like water on rock. They'll wear down. It's a contact sport, but people don't want to be hit all the time. So I just keep going."
Neal's comments were lifted from the extensive media notes supplied to Cincinnati reporters in preparation for Sunday's game. Below, take a closer look at the Bucs' critical Game 11 from the other side's viewpoint. The following notes are excerpted from the Bengals' media release.
Setting the Scene
A Bengals season that began with considerable promise has stalled with a three-game losing streak. While the defense has contributed a playoff-worthy effort recently, the offense quite simply has not scored (no points in the last seven quarters, seven points in the last 10). The Bengals suffered seven offensive turnovers in last week's 18-0 loss at Cleveland, and Tampa Bay's highly respected defense, coming off a stellar effort at St. Louis, stands in the way of plans for an offensive revival.
But such plans are clearly on the mind of QB Jon Kitna, whose recent slump on the field has not affected his candid, upbeat brand of team leadership.
"I'm going to do a lot of praying and soul-searching, and I'm going to prepare myself to let it rip just like it was when we were 2-0," Kitna said. "Everyone's confidence is affected by something like this, but this game is so funny. You can break out for a 21-point quarter, and all of a sudden you're on a roll. I believe we have the ability to do that."
Kitna had played every Bengals offensive snap through halftime of the Cleveland game, but head coach Dick LeBeau replaced him with Scott Mitchell to open the third quarter. LeBeau said after the game that Kitna "is still our starter."
"Our assignment at this point is simply to stay together and fight our way through to better times," LeBeau told reporters after the Cleveland game. "This team is not going to quit, and I believe in the character and competitiveness of all our players. I'm proud of our effort, and it's up to everyone -- players and coaches – to improve the results."
A Record Show
The Bengals set several offensive records which stand to this day in their last victory over Tampa Bay, on Oct. 29, 1989. The list includes a tie for most touchdowns in a game (8), most PATs (8 by Jim Breech), most passing touchdowns (6) and a tie for most passing touchdowns by an individual (5 by Boomer Esiason). The 56 points scored by Cincinnati stands as the third-highest total in club history and the most ever against an NFC opponent.
Kitna vs. Buccaneers
Bengals QB Jon Kitna may have payback on his mind this week. He played once against Tampa Bay during his four seasons with Seattle, and suffered a career-high 5 INT. The date of the game was Nov. 28, 1999, and Kitna completed 19 of 44 passes for 197 yards in a 16-3 Seahawks loss at Seattle.
Best Since '83
The Bengals defense is holding the line while the team seeks an offensive spark. Cincinnati is ranked 10th in NFL net defense with an average of 305.7 yards allowed per game, and the Bengals have not allowed so few yards per game over a full season since the 1983 team held foes to 270.4.
The 1983 team led the NFL in net defense. If the Bengals can hold or improve their current ranking through the season's end, it would be their first Top-10 finish since 1989, when the defense placed seventh at 331.1 yards per game.
Takeaway Total Rises
In addition to holding opponents to fewer yards than any Bengals team since 1983 (see "Best since '83"above), this year's defense has taken strides to improve last year's AFC-low total of 21 takeaways. The Bengals tied their second-highest takeaway total of the season at Cleveland with three ( 2 INT, 1 FR), and Cincinnati now has 18 takeaways on the season, in the AFC's upper half with a No. 6 ranking.
Coordinator Mark Duffner's unit is on pace for 29 turnovers for the season, which would be the team's highest total since the 1996 club exploded for 44, including a team-record 34 interceptions.
CB Artrell Hawkins leads the defense in the takeaway category with 5 entries on the stat sheet — 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. MLB Brian Simmons ranks second with 3 entries — an interception and 2 forced fumbles. In the Cleveland game, Simmons ripped the ball from RB Ben Gay's grasp in the first quarter, and DT Tony Williams recovered to halt a scoring threat at the Bengals 18. The interceptions at Cleveland came from S Chris Carter, who intercepted a Tim Couch pass in the second quarter and returned 10 yards to the Browns 47, and from Mark Roman, who had perfect position on WR Kevin Johnson for an end-zone interception in the third quarter.
Injuries Slow Warrick's Bid
Injuries are threatening WR Peter Warrick's bid to become only the second Bengal to reach the 80-catch mark in a season. Warrick was on pace for 80 catches with 40 at the season's halfway mark, but he has only four catches in the last two games, due mostly to limited playing time.
Warrick missed a portion of the Nov. 18 Tennessee game with a bruised right quad, and he played less than a half last week at Cleveland, due to a left shoulder bruise that sidelined him in the second quarter. Warrick is listed as questionable for Tampa Bay.
Warrick's current pace of 4.4 catches per game would leave him at 70 for the season. He would need 72 to post the highest total by a Bengal other than Carl Pickens. Pickens, who played from 1992-99, is in firm control of the team's season receptions records. He had 100 catches in 1996, posted 99 in 1995 and had 82 in 1998. But the next-best total by anyone other than Pickens is 71, by TE Dan Ross in 1981. The most catches in a season by a wide receiver other than Pickens is 67 by rookie Cris Collinsworth in 1981.
The Bengals have significantly improved on last year's third-down performance on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, Cincinnati ranks 11th in the NFL with an opponents' conversion rate of 36.0% (49-136). In 2000, the Bengals ranked 25 defensively at 42.7%.
Offensively, the Bengals rank 12th this season with a conversion rate of 38.2% (58-152). Last season, the Bengals ranked 25th offensively at 33.9%.
Corey Dillon's 27-carry, 184-yard rushing performance on Oct. 28 at Detroit improved the Bengals' record in several areas tied to his performances.
The Bengals are: