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Bad Teams (Bengals, Vikings) Abound


Dave Lapham was a guard for Cincinnati when the Bengals were a legitimate NFL team in the 1970s and early '80s.

Now a broadcaster, he's seeing and hearing firsthand just how bad the team is.

On Sunday, he heard Tampa Bay assistants in an adjoining booth laughing at the Bengals' ineptitude and said he's heard the same during games with San Diego and Atlanta.

"They were shaking their heads, smiling, laughing," Lapham said. "It was unbelievable. I've seen it more than once this year. They're in the booth making fun of everything."

The Bengals are 0-4 and have been outscored 119-23, even poorer than usual for a team that has the worst record in the NFL for more than a decade.

Yet Gil Brandt reported on this week that they're the only team with three quarterbacks on the roster each being paid more than $1 million this year. Gus Frerotte, Jon Kitna and Akili Smith have a combined quarterback rating of 44.3, awful by any standard.

They're not the only horrid team. The caliber of football this year has been exciting. But it's also been bad all over the NFL.

The two prime-time games last week are prime examples of the low level of play.

Minnesota managed to allow 45 points in the first half to a Seattle team that had scored just 36 in total in its first three games.

Denver, which started 3-0, was dreadful in Baltimore, allowing, among other things, Chris McAlister's 107-yard missed field goal return on the final play of the Ravens' 31-point second quarter.

The Broncos should bounce back, the Vikings probably won't.

There are other sorry examples beyond the Bungles:

* New York Jets (1-3). In hindsight, the opening week overtime win in Buffalo was a fluke. Without Chad Morton's two kickoff returns for touchdowns, they'd be 0-4. They were supposed to challenge for the AFC East title. Instead, they've been outscored 102-13 by New England, Miami and Jacksonville; Vinny Testaverde is out at quarterback; and the supposedly upgraded defense is the second worst in the NFL statistically.

* St. Louis (0-4). The problem goes beyond Kurt Warner's broken pinkie. Warner was a standing target because of a gaping hole at right tackle, compounded when All-Pro left tackle Orlando Pace went down with a torn calf muscle.

Even before the injuries, opponents were more aggressive defensively because the loss of Az-Zahir Hakim to Detroit via free agency and the offensive line problems negated the deep threat.

* Minnesota (0-4). Why does everyone think the Vikings' slide is a surprise? In the last two years, Cris Carter and Robert Smith have retired and Korey Stringer died of heat stroke in training camp in 2001. No team can afford to lose players like that.

The Vikings' defense has always been suspect. Someone suggested last week that the "leader" of the defense go to Randy Moss and talk him into behaving. What "leader?" Third-year defensive tackle Chris Hovan is the senior Viking (and best player) on the unit, but he's still only 24 years old. The rest of the guys are still getting introduced.

* Pittsburgh (1-2). The Steelers, sliced and diced by Tom Brady and Rich Gannon in their first two games, came back from a bye week with Kordell Stewart on notice that he had to produce or be benched against Cleveland.

He was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of much-traveled Tommy Maddox, who led the Steelers to a late touchdown and an overtime win. Maddox starts this week, but he's probably not the longterm answer. Stewart has had more bad seasons than good ones, and the gears on the Bus (Jerome Bettis) seem worn.

There's time to rebound in a weak division, but the Steelers are weak, too.

* Detroit (1-3). Despite an impressive win over New Orleans, the Lions are bad.

The good news is that Joey Harrington showed promise last week, especially on a two-play sequence when he lofted a perfect 40-yard pass to Hakim, then zinged a perfect 38-yard TD pass to Bill Schroeder.

* Tennessee (1-3). The Titans allowed two punt returns for touchdowns last week, the pass defense that was supposed to be fixed ranks 29th, and Eddie George is averaging 2.9 yards a carry.

* Washington (1-2). No one should question Steve Spurrier's credentials. But he can't win with Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel at quarterback. The defense is talented but ancient in spots (Bruce Smith and Darrell Green) and has had trouble learning Marvin Lewis' complicated schemes. A meddling owner doesn't help.

* Seattle (1-3). More talent than the record shows. Or did Shaun Alexander have a record-setting game Sunday night because he was facing Minnesota?

* Houston (1-3). Excused, because it's an expansion team and the two offensive line bookends, Tony Boselli and Ryan Young, haven't played yet because of injuries. GM Charley Casserly knew taking Boselli in the expansion draft was a gamble. So far, he's lost.

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