The Raiders almost hate to see the Cincinnati Bengals in the state they’re in, and it has nothing to do with Ohio.
In trying to work up some semblance of emotion for today’s game at Riverfront Stadium, the Raiders prefer to remember the playoff team they faced in January, not the 1-10 disaster the Bengals have become.
Raider nose tackle Bob Golic, in a temporary fit, actually called the Bengals a “great team” this week until he was shamed into recanting.
“Let’s put it this way,” Golic said. “I haven’t seen their defense, but their offense does some great things. I guess you can’t call anybody great if they’re not consistent.”
The Bengals are consistent in this sense: Had Eric Thomas not blocked a last-second field goal attempt against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 3, Cincinnati would be 0-11.
And, had Golic noticed, Cincinnati’s defense ranked last in the NFL this week.
Golic and teammates are perhaps talking themselves into taking the Bengals seriously because dressing up 1-10 in a suit and tie doesn’t work.
The best the Raiders can do is recall the memories of January’s 20-10 playoff victory over the Bengals at the Coliseum, a game that wasn’t decided until the fourth quarter, and compare rosters.
Boomer Esiason, wounded then and now, is still the quarterback. Remember, in that playoff game Esiason wasn’t supposed to contribute because of flu, but he rose from his sickbed to make a game of it.
James Brooks, too, is still the tailback. Eddie Brown and Tim McGee are the receivers. Anthony Munoz is still the future Hall of Fame left tackle.
“There’s a tremendous amount of talent on that team,” Golic said.
So what has it been doing on Sundays?
Still, big-time losers can make 7-4 teams tremble. The Raiders, naturally, are supposed to drop into Cincinnati, dispose of the Bengals in orderly fashion, then move on to the next challenge.
Anything less is unacceptable.
The Raiders can’t afford a slip as they try to keep pace in the AFC West. If they have any thought of defending their title, they must win their remaining five games and hope Denver loses once. If the Raiders lose once, Denver must lose twice.
A loss would all but leave the Raiders as wild-card chasers, and even that race would be no cinch with a final four finish against San Diego, Buffalo, New Orleans and Kansas City.
So the Raiders palpitate and posture.
“They’re just not getting breaks,” Coach Art Shell said of the Bengals. “They’re still playing good football, they’re just losing some games that are close. Things aren’t going their way.”
Bengal Coach Sam Wyche, who never met an official he liked or an angle he didn’t, has ruled nearly his entire roster out for today’s game because of injuries.
Esiason banged the pinky on his throwing hand in last week’s 17-10 loss to Philadelphia, and Wyche said he might start rookie Donald Hollas against the Raiders.
The Raiders scouted Hollas as a senior at Rice and thought highly of him. They are not, however, planning to prepare for him.
“I fully expect him to be out there,” Shell said of Esiason. “Along with anybody else they say that won’t play.
“If a guy is probable, he’s probably got a hangnail, or something like that.”
It is difficult to imagine Wyche would need to poor-mouth a team with one victory.
“Oh, we’re building all kinds of character down here,” Wyche said. “In fact, I don’t think we need any more of that. It’s been frustrating. There’s no alibi. There’s no way to say it other than we’re disappointed.”
Wyche’s defense has collapsed in a collective heap, and the once-feared Bengal offense isn’t far behind.
Esiason, plagued by shoulder problems all season, ranks last among AFC passers with a rating of 69.5.
“It would be easy for me to sit here and say we have the 28th-ranked defense, and we’re 28th in sacks,” Esiason said. “But on the other side of the ball, I’m the lowest-ranked quarterback in the NFL. It would be ridiculous for me to point the finger at somebody else when, in fact, our offense has not lived up to the standards that we have set.”
Cincinnati has 10 sacks this season, 3 1/2 fewer than NFL leader Pat Swilling of New Orleans. . . . Jeff Jaeger needs one more field goal to break the team record previously shared by him and George Blanda. Jaeger has made 23 of 27 attempts this season.
Bengal receiver Eddie Brown is recovering from hernia surgery, tackle Joe Walter was forced from last week’s game because of an irregular heartbeat and safety David Fulcher has a kidney injury. All are listed as questionable for today’s game.
The Bengals are minus-12 in take-aways. The Rams, at minus-14, are the only NFL team with a worse ratio.