- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Al Davis, the Los Angeles Raiders' managing general partner, used to call it the Summer of Discontent. He would survey the annual July-August madness—rookies who wouldn't sign, veterans who wouldn't report, walkouts, holdouts, dropouts—and he'd say, "Wait. Just wait until the regular season starts. These things always sort themselves out."
Last Sunday, as he watched L.A. destroy the Cincinnati Bengals 20-10, he had to wonder. Not about his Raiders. Oh no, they came out of the box right smartly, putting together two long, tortuous drives on their first two possessions to take the starch out of Cincy before the game was midway into the second quarter. It was the team on the other side of the field, the Bengals, that led one to believe that the off-season malaise this year was deeper and more incisive than summer discontents of the past.
Cincinnati sagged both offensively and defensively. It lacked muscle on defense. The Raiders converted five of six third-and-short situations, short being defined as three yards or less, and on the sixth, L.A. got the first down on the next play anyway. The Bengals' goal-line unit didn't hold when the Raiders got in close. Los Angeles junked its regular 3-4 defense and went to a 4-2-nickel on every down early in the game, and the Cincy offense looked confused. Rookie Center Dave Rimington could not cope with the stunts L.A.'s defensive tackles were pulling. The Bengals made mistakes. In the first half they let the Raiders off the hook in long-yardage situations four times, three of them with penalties. They piled up more penalty yardage than L.A. did, something that happens very seldom in a Raider game.
"I thought we were ready to play," Bengal Coach Forrest Gregg said afterward. "I really thought the attitude was good going into the game, and for the most part we played hard but not well."
An air of defeatism hung over the Bengals, and it all came into focus in one brief episode near the end of the first half. The Raiders were up 17-0. Cincy had put together a pretty good drive on its first possession only to have it evaporate when Matt Millen, L.A.'s massive inside linebacker, swooped in from Quarterback Ken Anderson's blind side to intercept a pass on the nine-yard line. Another Bengal mini-drive ended when Raider Linebacker Rod Martin stripped the ball away from Anderson on a scramble. The rest of the time, Cincy's offense had shown zilch.
Now the first half was winding down, bodies were starting to sag in the soggy Riverfront Stadium heat, and L.A. had a third-and-10 on Cincy's 45 with 1:30 left and the clock running. There was still time for the Bengals to get something on the board. They could call time-out, stop the clock and hope Los Angeles missed on third down. The Bengals needed an upper, and if they could get something before the half.... It was a long shot, but what the hell, they were getting whipped anyway. Time was not called. The clock ran. Jim Plunkett's pass misfired and Ray Guy punted, but there were only 35 seconds left when the Bengals got the ball on their 20 and they ran off five futile plays, never crossing midfield. Cincinnati could have taken over with almost a minute and a half remaining, and when someone mentioned that to Gregg afterward, he looked at the guy as if he were crazy.
"I'm sorry, but I just don't recall what you're talking about," he said.
An assistant coach put it a little stronger. "We were down 17-0," he said. "Start fooling around and you might be down 24-0."
Such was the lack of confidence the Bengals, who took a Super Bowl trip in 1982, projected into the 1983 season. It wasn't good, and one wonders just how deeply all the off-season discontent and misfortune that came their way will be felt on the field—and for how long.
Ross Browner and Pete Johnson were suspended for four games because of drug involvement. Browner's replacement at defensive right end, second-year man Glen Collins, was a target. L.A. aimed most of its short-yardage stuff at him, including Marcus Allen's pair of one-yard TD runs. Collins' statistics for the day read no solo tackles, two assists. Johnson's place at fullback was taken by Charles Alexander, who moved over from halfback. Alexander was fairly effective catching swing passes—he had four for 35 yards—but the running game got nowhere, which wasn't really his fault. There was nowhere to run. The stunting Raider front four controlled the line of scrimmage. Only twice in their last 26 games have the Bengals rushed for less than the 58 yards they got Sunday.