Bengals’ offense keeps sliding

Joe Kay and Joe Kay

CINCINNATI – Four games. Three touchdowns. The math adds up to an 11th straight lost season for the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals’ midseason aspirations of a playoff run have disintegrated along with their offense. They’ve lost four in a row and fallen out of contention because of the bottom line.

They can’t score.

“It’s not a secret,” linebacker Takeo Spikes said. “We need more points to win. Point-blank. Period.”

The Bengals (4-7) also need major improvement in their special teams, which cost them dearly again in the latest loss. They had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown in Tampa Bay’s 16-13 overtime victory Sunday.

Their kickoff coverage is worst in the NFL and so frighteningly bad that the Bengals have taken to high, short kickoffs rather that giving opponents a chance to make a return.

All of that aside, it’s the offense that’s getting most of the blame – and most of the boos – for its prominent role in the slide back into Bengal misery.

Things got so ugly Sunday that the 52,135 fans booed loudly when the offense ran onto the field to start a series in the fourth quarter with the Bengals trailing 13-3. The boos intensified when Kitna badly missed Peter Warrick three plays later, forcing a punt.

“We’re not producing,” Warrick said. “It gets to the point that now we go on the field and the darn fans boo us. That’s bad, man.”

That’s the norm around these parts. Last season, the Bengals had the worst passing game in franchise history – six touchdown passes in a 4-12 season.

Things looked promising when the Bengals overhauled the offense, brought in Jon Kitna and won their first two games. It’s been downhill since then: seven losses in nine games.

The only part of the team that’s holding up is the defense. It gave up a total of two touchdowns in losses to Cleveland and Tampa Bay and is ranked 10th in the league in yards allowed.

The offense is regressing. Corey Dillon hasn’t rushed for 100 yards during the four-game losing streak, and Kitna has thrown two touchdown passes and six interceptions over that span.

Part of it familiarity. After the first few games, opponents had a better idea of what the Bengals were trying to do under first-year coordinator Bob Bratkowski.

They’ve adjusted; the Bengals haven’t.

If the slump goes on much longer, the offense could be in for a major change. General manager Mike Brown told The Cincinnati Enquirer last week that Akili Smith will become the starting quarterback when the Bengals are out of contention, so the club can get a better idea where he fits in its long-term plans.

Coach Dick LeBeau was caught off-guard Monday when he was asked at what point the team would make Smith the starter.

“I haven’t mentioned Akili other than the fact that he’s the No. 2 quarterback,” LeBeau said uneasily. “That’s the first time I’ve heard that right now.”

Told that Brown had indicated the team would go in that direction, LeBeau said, “Oh, well, he’s a pretty important man. I actually didn’t know that. So I guess you’d better talk to Mr. Brown about that.