The bumbling Bengals, who haven't had a winning season in 12 consecutive years, ended their season with a 27-9 loss to the Bills on Sunday.
|That's Drew Bledsoe in the midst of a lot of happy faces after he scores a rushing touchdown.(AP)|
"It's not any fun for any of us," Bengals coach Dick LeBeau said. "Life is about living. We aren't happy with what happened this year, but we are looking forward to 2003 and getting things straightened around."
Whether LeBeau, whose record is 12-33 since taking over in 2000, will be around to be part of the perennial rebuilding process is unclear. Bengals owner Mike Brown is anticipated to make a decision on his coaching staff as early as this week.
It's a different story in Buffalo, where the Bills (8-8) made significant strides in erasing the dreadful memories of last year's 3-13 finish. Buffalo's five-victory improvement from one season to the next matched a franchise record set three other times -- the last when Buffalo finished 12-4 in 1988 after going 7-8 the previous year.
Drew Bledsoe had a strong finish to cap his first season in Buffalo. He went 23-of-31 for 231 yards with a touchdown and scored on a 7-yard run. Eric Moulds had nine catches for 75 yards and a touchdown, and became the first Bills receiver -- and 39th in NFL history -- to reach the 100-reception plateau.
The game was over before halftime as the Bills scored on four of their first five possessions to open a 20-0 lead.
"I think we have something to build on," Moulds said. "We wanted to play hard. We could have finished the season 7-9 or 8-8, and 8-8 sounds better."
Team owner Ralph Wilson and president Tom Donahoe were impressed with the way the Bills finished the season.
"I'm satisfied with 8-8 from where we were," Wilson said. "Coming from where we were, we were worse off than an expansion team. I think the improvement's been terrific."
Donahoe expressed his support for coach Gregg Williams, who has one year left on his contract and has been the subject of criticism this season.
"I think he did an excellent job under the circumstances," Donahoe said. "Some of the criticism that was flown at Gregg was unfair and unwarranted. Our coaches in two years have not operated with a full roster. Next year we will, and I'm anxious to see them coach with a full complement of players."
Larry Centers scored on a 4-yard run and Mike Hollis hit field goals from 32 and 25 yards for Buffalo.
Cincinnati scored on quarterback Jon Kitna's 6-yard run and Neil Rackers' 19-yard field goal.
The game cost Kitna the most. Kitna came six snaps short of earning a $1.625 million contract bonus. To achieve the bonus, Kitna needed to take part in 61 snaps against Buffalo to appear in 80 percent of Cincinnati's offensive plays this season.
Kitna didn't help his own cause, finishing 19-of-35 for 241 yards and two interceptions, fumbled once and twice failed to convert fourth-down attempts.
Kitna was more frustrated by the Bengals' play than the bonus money he lost.
"Today was the epitome of our season," Kitna said. "The Jon Kitna watch, I really did not enjoy that. I thought it took the focus away from the game as a team, and it was unfortunate."
Some Bengals couldn't help but laugh.
Such was the case when running back Corey Dillon turned to teammate Lorenzo Neal and, referring to Cincinnati's training camp site in Georgetown, Ky., said: "See you in Georgetown next year."
Neal is eligible to become a free agent in March and isn't expected to return to Cincinnati. Upon hearing Dillon's comment, Neal stopped in mid-sentence and sarcastically said, "Yeah," before breaking into an uncontrollable laugh.
- Cincinnati finished the season allowing 456 points, just short of the franchise record of 460 allowed in 1999.
- Kitna took part in 842 of the team's 1,054 snaps, which translated into 79.886 percent.
- Bledsoe upped his career completion total to 2,919, moving into 11th place on the NFL list, 21 ahead of Troy Aikman.
- Buffalo's defense finished on a strong note, having allowed a combined 39 points in its last 14 quarters.
The Associated Press News Service
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