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Reporters gathered around Bengals tackle Kevin Sargent on Sunday
night to get his take on why the NFL's most disappointing team
has been so bad. Sargent was about to answer when he swallowed
his chaw of tobacco and promptly gagged it up.

How fitting. That should have been the reaction of the hometown
fans at Cinergy Field watching the Steelers' 26-10 rout of the
Bengals, who were expected to be serious playoff contenders this
year. As has become their habit during a 1-6 start, Cincinnati's
big-time players were small-time all afternoon. Wideout Carl
Pickens, for instance, was inexcusably stripped of the ball by
cornerback Carnell Lake at the Pittsburgh 14 as he was streaking
toward a score early in the fourth quarter. Running back Ki-Jana
Carter fumbled once and stumbled for just 63 rushing yards. On
one play the weak link of the Pittsburgh offensive line,
287-pound right guard Tom Myslinski, pushed 320-pound defensive
end Dan Wilkinson five yards downfield and pancaked him.
Surveying the damage, one Cincinnati fan, referring to a vote
last March that pledged public funds for construction of a
stadium, screamed, "I want my tax dollars back!"

In short, here's what's wrong with this team. First, the zone
blitz, which was supposed to be a cure-all when it was installed
by new assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Dick
LeBeau, hasn't cured anything. Seven games, seven sacks. The
Bengals linebackers can't beat the running backs who block them
one-on-one, and the penetration and pursuit of the linemen have
been abysmal. Second, there's nobody to take this team by the
throat and shake it when it loses consecutive division games by
a combined 39 points, as it has done the past two weeks. The
Bengals failed to import a leader from the free-agent pool
(missing out on the likes of cornerback Rod Woodson and
linebackers Kevin Greene and Seth Joyner), and high-profile,
high-salaried players like Pickens, Carter, Wilkinson and
quarterback Jeff Blake are locker room mannequins. Third, the
front office refuses to bring in a quality football man to run
the show. Cincinnati's image is so bad around the league--in
part because the franchise is a mom-and-pop organization--that
agents are loath to encourage their clients to sign there.

Particularly puzzling is the play of the 24-year-old Wilkinson,
the first pick in the 1994 draft. He will have collected $10.3
million by the end of this season, but he plays with no passion.
He has a sore knee and toe, but that doesn't explain why he's a
mind-boggling 12th on the team in tackles, has made no impact in
a scheme that was designed for him and looked totally
uninterested against the Steelers. And this was after coach
Bruce Coslet took him aside following last Saturday night's team
meetings, put on a tape of overachieving Pittsburgh defensive
end Kevin Henry making valiant plays and said, "You're better
than this guy. You can make plays like this."

In the wake of his four-tackle, no-sack game against a Steelers
offense that amassed 412 yards, Wilkinson said, "There ain't
much to say."

Yes, there is. Coslet faces an unwinnable situation with
Wilkinson, who's eligible for free agency after this season. He
knows that even if Wilkinson continues to play poorly, some team
will throw $4 million a year at such a cat-quick defensive
lineman. As Coslet dragged on the first of his many postgame
cigarettes on Sunday, his frustration was apparent.

"When I played," said the Bengals tight end of a generation ago,
"Paul Brown once told me, 'You do that again, Coslet, and I'll
replace you. And no one will pick you up.' He was right. But now
you can't cut most of these guys, because of cap implications.
There's no fear factor. The problem with free agency is that
guys who haven't done a darned thing are reaping the benefits.
For many there's no motivation to be great."

At this point Cincinnati would probably accept mediocrity.


When it rains, it floods. That's the way things are going for
the Cowboys. Last week injuries left the careers of fullback
Daryl Johnston and left tackle Mark Tuinei hanging by threads.
Johnston has a bulging disk in his neck, and on Sunday he missed
the first game of his nine-year career, a 26-22 win over the
Jaguars. Tuinei, who also watched the game in street clothes,
tore up his left knee for the second time--this time it's the
anterior cruciate ligament--during an Oct. 13 loss to the

Even before the injury, there had been speculation that this
would be the last year for Tuinei, a 15-year veteran who is
under contract through 1998. Johnston, meanwhile, would have a
significant impact on the club's '98 salary cap if he were to
retire before next June 1. He signed a five-year, $7.5 million
deal in March and would count $1.6 million against next year's
cap if he calls it quits before June. (Retired stars Charles
Haley and Jay Novacek will count a combined $1.7 million.) A
bigger issue than the bulging payroll, though, is the matter of
who's going to make the personnel decisions for a team that is
aging quickly.

Owner Jerry Jones says he's the man. He says he has surrounded
himself with good scouts and good scouting services. He says
coach Barry Switzer and scouting director Larry Lacewell are
outstanding personnel men. He says Switzer is every bit the
talent evaluator his predecessor Jimmy Johnson is. He says all
of this with a straight face.

"Who's he trying to kid?" Johnson retorted last week. "Does he
think people really believe him when he says this stuff? Let me
ask you this: How many Pro Bowl players did we draft when I was

The answer is nine, in five drafts.

"How many Pro Bowl players have they drafted with Barry?"
Johnson asked.

The answer is one, in three drafts. (That player, right guard
Larry Allen, is eligible for free agency after this season.)
True, but Johnson had seven first-round picks in his five drafts
and in his first four years was selecting higher than Switzer in
every round by virtue of the Cowboys' poorer records.

In Switzer's three drafts, only 10 of the 26 players whom Dallas
selected remain on the roster. The Cowboys have traded out of
the first round twice, and their top picks in the three
drafts--defensive end Shante Carver, running back Sherman
Williams and defensive end Kavika Pittman--have done little.
This year's draft, however, looks relatively strong. Tight end
David LaFleur, outside linebacker Dexter Coakley, defensive
tackle Antonio Anderson and strong safety Omar Stoutmire have
made significant contributions. One good draft out of four,
however, is no way to stay atop the football world.


As their turn to make their fifth-round pick in the 1995 draft
approached, the Packers scoured their board in search of a
running back. Director of college scouting John Dorsey
recommended an oft-injured back out of Georgia. But Dorsey
didn't push hard, and Green Bay settled on The Citadel's Travis

The oft-injured back: Terrell Davis, who would go to the Broncos
in the sixth round. No player, besides Barry Sanders, has rushed
for more yards since the start of the '96 season.

"John wanted to take him," says Packers general manager Ron
Wolf. "But the fact that he didn't play, that's one thing I
didn't like. He sure put that to bed."


At last week's league meetings Oilers owner Bud Adams declined
to say definitively that his team would play its 1998 home games
in Nashville instead of Memphis, where they have averaged just
24,005 fans this season. "I want to sell Memphanites on
football," Adams said.


Redskins coach Norv Turner says he's glad the Raiders turned
down his team's offer for defensive tackle Chester McGlockton at
the Oct. 7 trade deadline. According to a source close to
Turner, Washington was ready to send first- and third-round
draft choices for the six-year veteran, who's eligible for free
agency after this season. "Down the road," Turner says, "we're
really going to need those picks."...The Jets' 24-19 win over
the Patriots was sealed when an official made what appeared on
replay to be a poor call, ruling that New England wideout Shawn
Jefferson trapped a pass on a fourth-down play in the final two
minutes. "We're out there fighting for our lives to come back to
win and [line judge Ben Montgomery] made a gutless call,"
Jefferson said. "I made that catch." Fine, anyone?...
Packerphiles, get your checkbooks ready. A source close to the
NFL's finance committee says the league is almost certain to
approve a plan to issue more stock in the storied franchise. The
plan, which involves a stock split and the sale of additional
shares at $200 each, is designed to raise some $80 million. The
money would be used for improvements at Lambeau Field and to
establish a fund for construction of a stadium in the next 15 to
20 years....It looks as if George Young, the 67-year-old general
manager of the Giants, will be moving to the league office as a
senior football adviser to the commissioner in 1998. The early
line on his successor: The Giants will either hook up assistant
general manager Ernie Accorsi with a strong football man--Jerry
Angelo, the Buccaneers' superb personnel director, will merit
consideration--or they'll go for a proven G.M. type, such as the
Panthers' Bill Polian or Tom Donohoe, the Steelers' director of
football operations.... Colts vice president Bill Tobin on the
job security of coach Lindy Infante: "He's got a contract. How
much more secure can a guy be?"


Adam Vinatieri, who has connected on a league-leading 21
consecutive field goal attempts dating back to last season,
wouldn't be the Patriots' kicker were it not for the compassion
of General George Custer. Before he started a family,
Vinatieri's great-great-great grandfather Felix Vinatieri was
Custer's chief musician, the leader of a band that accompanied
Custer and his troops on U.S. Army maneuvers in the upper
Midwest. But when the troops marched into Indian territory in
the Black Hills of South Dakota in June 1876, Custer left the
musicians at a base camp. "The general knew there was a good
chance of conflict, and he was obviously right," Vinatieri says.

COLOR PHOTO: PATRICK MURPHY-RACEY Henry (76) helped bottle up Carter, one of several big-bucks Bengals who has been a disappointment. [Kevin Henry tackling Ki-Jana Carter in game]

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Foley stepped into the limelight. [Glenn Foley]


SI's eighth midseason all-pro squad, selected by a panel of 19
pro personnel directors and scouts, features breakthrough
players like linebackers John Mobley of the Broncos, Levon
Kirkland of the Steelers and Derrick Brooks of the Buccaneers.
Surprises? There's one big one, at least to the Broncos' Terrell
Davis, the AFC rushing leader, who almost dropped the phone when
he heard he had not only beaten out the Lions' Barry Sanders for
the running back spot but had been chosen the MVP as well. "For
me to be mentioned in the same sentence with Barry is
incredible," said Davis. "To beat him out, that's a dream."
Here's our team.


Pos. Player, Team Votes

WR Herman Moore, Lions 16
LT Tony Boselli, Jaguars 12
LG Randall McDaniel, Vikings 8
C Dermontti Dawson, Steelers 16
RG Larry Allen, Cowboys 14
RT Leon Searcy, Jaguars 7
TE Ben Coates, Patriots 12
WR Tim Brown, Raiders 9
QB John Elway, Broncos 12
RB Terrell Davis, Broncos 11
FB Mike Alstott, Buccaneers 14
K Matt Stover, Ravens 6


Pos. Player, Team Votes

DE Bruce Smith, Bills 12
DT John Randle, Vikings 13
DT Bryant Young, 49ers 10
DE Reggie White, Packers 9
OLB John Mobley, Broncos 11
MLB Levon Kirkland, Steelers 5
OLB Derrick Brooks, Buccaneers 4
CB Deion Sanders, Cowboys 12
CB Aeneas Williams, Cardinals 12
FS Merton Hanks, 49ers 9
SS Darren Woodson, Cowboys 8
P Matt Turk, Redskins 7


Davis, 7

Offensive Player
Elway, 6

Defensive Player
Young, 7

Offensive Rookie
Warrick Dunn, Buccaneers, 18

Defensive Rookie
Peter Boulware, Ravens, 11

Tony Dungy, Buccaneers, 9

Rich McKay, Buccaneers, 9

Comeback Player
Gary Brown, Chargers, 4


1. OFF-BROADWAY HITS Giants backup quarterback Danny Kanell, who
lives in New Jersey, subs for Dave Brown and beats the Lions.
Jets backup quarterback Glenn Foley, who was born in New Jersey,
subs for Neil O'Donnell and beats the Patriots. On Sunday,
September afterthoughts Kanell and Foley completed a combined
63% of their passes. The Giants are 5-3. The Jets are 5-3. Isn't
this remarkable?

2. LAST MOOSE CALL? Ever remember Cowboys fullback Daryl
Johnston limping or even getting up slowly after a play? Me
neither. Now this sledgehammer pays. A bulging disk in his neck
may force one of the league's classiest players to retire.

3. RUSH ORDER Niners coach Steve Mariucci wasn't kidding when he
said the ground game would be big by the Bay. San Francisco is
running the ball 53% of the time and is averaging 4.1 yards per
carry. Garrison Hearst ran for 105 yards in a 35-28 win over the
Falcons in Atlanta. But the question remains: With their six
wins coming against weak NFC West teams, how good are the 49ers?
This Sunday's game is against the Saints, so we won't get a good
read on the Niners until a Nov. 2 bout against the Cowboys.

4. STAMPEDED So much for an undefeated season. Denver got run
over in Oakland. The Broncos are surrendering 5.7 yards per
rush, which is the kind of stat that will get them a warm seat
next to the golden retriever and the fireplace come January.

5. BUFFALO KNUCKLEHEAD Billy Joe Hobert lost his $47,500-a-week
job as a backup quarterback after admitting that he didn't
adequately prepare for the Bills' game against the Patriots on
Oct. 12, a game in which he played extensively and that the
Bills lost 33-6. Smart move. Even a quarterback-needy team would
be foolish to touch this slacker.