It looks as though it may be a long time between drinks for Paul Brown. The Cincinnati Bengal coach, general manager and part owner (left), who denies himself his usual predinner martinis during the pro football season because he expects his players to do the same, must be thinking Super Bowl after watching his club demolish the Philadelphia Eagles 37-14 last weekend in the season opener at Riverfront Stadium. When Brown had a chance to check the other scores around the conference, a Super Bowl trip—and another month of abstinence—seemed even more feasible. Oakland and Kansas City, both contenders, lost and Miami, reputedly a strong team, was tied by lowly Denver.
While the Eagles are certainly no powerhouse, they do have a stout defense, and the young Bengals, after playing an overly cautious first half, ripped Philadelphia apart in a spectacular second half that kept 55,880 fans in an uproar.
Cincinnati's statistics were awesome: Virgil Carter completed 22 of 30 passes for 273 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The running backs added 236 yards on 35 rushes for an average of 6.7 yards per carry. And Ken Anderson, the rookie quarterback from Augustana College, made good use of the couple of minutes he was in by completing two of three passes for 37 yards and running once for 16.
The play that established the Bengals' domination was the second of the third period. At that point Cincinnati was leading 10-7 and had the ball on its own 10-yard line, second and nine. Brown, as always, sent in the play.
"We thought it might work because we noted that the Philadelphia strong safety was run-conscious," Carter said after the game. "It's a play action pass. The strong safety is supposed to help out the cornerback deep on pass coverage or come up in support against the run. So we faked Essex Johnson into the line and Speedy Thomas went right by the cornerback. The safety took the run fake, and when Thomas beat the corner he was all by himself."
Carter, who has been criticized for his inability to throw long, uncorked a perfect pass that traveled 40 or more yards in the air and hit Thomas in full stride. "It was just a footrace then," Thomas said later. "Somebody caught up with me at about the five-yard line but I stiff-armed him and went on in."
In the old days, Brown's Cleveland teams were a bit on the conservative side; now he has become a gambler. For example, in the first half the Bengals had a fourth and two on the Eagle five-yard line. In Horst Muhlmann, a German import who is one of the two or three best placekickers in the NFL, Brown had a certain three points, but he chose to go for the first down, and Fred Willis, a rookie back from Boston College, got it by half the length of the football. On the next play Carter passed to Eric Crabtree for Cincinnati's first touchdown, another unorthodox call.
Crabtree figured in still another surprising play in the fourth period after the Eagles had scored to make it 27-14. This time the Bengals were on their own 32, first and 10, a good situation for a pass, especially since Carter was throwing so well. Instead, the call was a pitch-out to Johnson, a speedster Brown often saves for use in the second half when the opposition is tired.
Crabtree's assignment was to block back on the linebacker, and he did it perfectly. Ernie Wright, a huge offensive tackle, swung wide to take out the cornerback. "I heard Essex hollering, 'Run, Ernie, run,' " Wright said after the game, grinning hugely. "Heck, I was already running as hard as a 31-year-old man can. I got a piece of the back and Essex cut to the inside and he was gone." It was a beautiful, twisting run in which Johnson twice broke tackles and reversed his field three times, and it carried 68 yards for a touchdown.
While the Bengal offense provided most of the fireworks, the defense did its job, too. Spearheading a pass rush that dumped Eagle Quarterback Pete Liske three times and harassed him into three interceptions was Mike Reid, an All-America tackle from Penn State who is now in his second season. Although he missed the last three exhibition games with a knee injury, he played with a quickness and agility reminiscent of Henry Jordan during his All-Pro seasons with Green Bay. Oftener than not, Reid made a welcome mat of unfortunate Mark Nordquist, the guard who was playing on him. Reid is noted for his ability as a piano player and has given concerts with the Cincinnati Symphony. On Sunday he played Nordquist like a drum.