CINCINNATI - Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph didn't care that the Eagles had the fourth-best scoring offense in the NFL entering yesterday's game. He didn't care that Donovan McNabb had thrown for 2,372 yards, fourth-best in the league, and had tossed only five interceptions in 324 attempts this season.
The Bengals - coming off a bye - had 2 weeks to prepare for the Eagles' offensive attack, and when Joseph finally saw McNabb and his receivers in person, he knew what was coming much of the time.
Certainly, nothing the Eagles threw at Cincinnati threw Joseph for a loss. Forget the statistics. He knew much of the game plan.
"From watching film, other teams in the league have been successful against them," said Joseph, who recorded one of the three Bengals interceptions and tallied three pass defenses during the 13-13 tie. "They may have a lot of yards or whatever, but teams have been successful getting them off the field. They have tendencies you can pick up on and you have a good idea of what's going on."
The big stress in Cincinnati's defensive meetings this week was to stop the Eagles on third down and keep the them off the field as much as possible. In that sense, the Bengals were successful, allowing the Eagles to convert only three of 18 third-down attempts as Cincinnati held the ball more than 8 minutes longer than the Birds.
Even when the Bengals couldn't make the big play, they still had a pretty good sense of what to expect. Just ask Joseph, who had a chance to turn the game during overtime, dropping a sure interception from McNabb that would have given the Bengals possession in Eagles territory.
"They run those 14-yard curl routes - they ran them like four or five times today - so when they do that, the safeties were going to be aggressive and the corners were going to be over the top," Joseph said. "On that particular play, that's what happened. He overthrew it a little bit and I had a chance to make a play on the ball. I just took my eyes off it. It's one of those things that you think is an easy play and the ball goes through your hands."
The Eagles' defense, meanwhile, made its mark on Cincinnati. Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked eight times, and the Eagles - led by defensive ends Trent Cole and Darren Howard, both of whom recorded a pair of sacks - kept the mobile Fitzpatrick from hurting them with sneaks and scrambles.
"A couple of those today, where it was a 2-yard loss or a 1-yard gain, when we played Jacksonville, it would have been a 20-yard gain," Fitzpatrick said. "They're good. They're not afraid to pressure the quarterback and not afraid to blitz guys. They do a good job. Their ends are fast up the field and we had some problems running against them today. They did a good job of getting me a few times where I thought I was going to get loose."
The result for the Bengals, a team that scored its first win of the season 2 weeks ago and is playing in front of a frustrated and apathetic fan base, could be construed as a positive step. After all, they didn't lose the game.
But that's not the way they saw it. They thought they should have beaten the Eagles.
"It almost feels like we lost," said receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who caught 12 passes for 149 yards and Cincinnati's only touchdown. "We were winning a majority of the game. The defense played great, and a lot of guys sucked it up on offense. We had great field position in overtime. We just didn't get it done."
Nobody took it harder than placekicker Shayne Graham, who missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt with 7 seconds left in the extra period that would have won it. He said the wind behind him was moving briskly from left to right and he aimed left, but he kicked it straighter than he wanted. While the kick appeared good when it left his foot, the wind pushed it wide right.
"I hate looking back on any kick in my career, knowing I should have made it, and this is one of those ones that I can look back on and get disappointed about," said Graham, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. "I'm more disappointed than anyone else. I don't think there's anyone else - a fan, a coach, a player - who's more disappointed than myself. I missed an opportunity to give us a win, and wins aren't coming very often for us." *