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the NFL
Peter King
December 07, 1992
TOOTHLESS BENGALS
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December 07, 1992

The Nfl

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YEAR

OFF.
RANK

AVG.
PTS.

AVERAGE YARDS PER

RUN

PASS

PLAY

1988

1

28.0

4.81

7.93

6.15

1989

3

25.3

4.69

6.53

5.63

1990

9

22.5

4.38

6.41

5.37

1991

14

16.4

4.03

5.81

5.00

1992

27

17.2

4.23

3.75

3.98

TOOTHLESS BENGALS

Walking off the Riverfront Stadium carpet late Sunday afternoon, new Bengal quarterback David Klingler didn't look too bad for a guy who had just been sacked 10 times. With a three-day-old beard and a three-hour-old headache, he appeared worn out. But his eyes were still bright, and he walked without a limp, and he said he felt O.K., considering the brutal circumstances of his pro debut. "Nothing a few Advil won't cure," Klingler said, sounding almost chipper.

The Bengals had lost 21-9 to the Steelers, but Klingler, poised and possessed of a big league arm, definitely looked to be Cincinnati's quarterback of the future. These days it's impossible for any Bengal quarterback to look great, because Cincinnati (4-8) is so bad, especially on offense. The line, long a staple, is in massive disrepair: Injuries have probably ended the career of All-Pro tackle Anthony Munoz; five of the eight active linemen are free-agent pickups; and nine different players have started along the line. Moreover, the wide receivers round off their patterns instead of running precise routes, and tight end Rodney Holman, who used to be all-conference, is now all-dropped balls. Franchise quarterback Boomer Esiason has been having a dreadful season, which is why he was finally benched last week in favor of the untested Klingler.

It's so grim in the Bengal locker room that the wisecracking Esiason can barely get a rise out of his teammates anymore. "We're all waiting for our Dr. Kevorkian Christmas catalogs," he said last Saturday night. Indeed, the thrilling Super Bowl season of 1988 seems four decades, not four years, ago. Here's how far the offense has fallen.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

When rookie coach Dave Shula told Esiason he was being benched, following a 19-13 loss to the Lions, Esiason told him, "To be honest with you, the weight of the world is off my shoulders." Enter Klingler, the record-setting run-and-shoot quarterback out of Houston, who was Cincy's surprise first-round draft pick. A training camp holdout, Klingler hadn't played a competitive down since the Senior Bowl last January. But last week Shula's staff whittled the game plan from the usual 50 or so pass plays to 23, with only one deep pattern calling for a standard NFL seven-step drop back. In going mostly with short routes and three-and five-step drop backs, the Bengals were hoping to avoid the Pittsburgh rush.

It was a nice plan, but Klingler still had horrible protection. He completed 16 of 34 throws for 140 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. In addition to being sacked 10 times, Klingler was chased eight other times and forced to run with the ball. When he did have time to pass, he looked as accurate and strong-armed as he had in college.

As for Esiason, he'll probably be shopped around by Cincinnati come February. "I still see myself holding a Super Bowl trophy sometime in the future," Esiason, 31, said. "I know I've got great years still in me, but I don't see how they can be here. There's nothing physically wrong with me, and there shouldn't be any doubt about my ability.

"I don't feel like I'm at the beginning of the end. I feel like I'm at the beginning of a new beginning."

As is Klingler. But it doesn't look as if it'll be a smooth ride for either.

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