Bengals' youth movement ends with boom for benched Esiason

The Cincinnati Bengals' youth movement finally claimed Boomer Esiason this week. Seven months after the Bengals drafted David Klingler as their quarterback of the future, they turned Esiason into a monument of the past.

Coach David Shula expedited the Bengals' future when he announced that Klingler, the sixth pick in last April's draft, will start Sunday at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Shula made it clear that the job is Klingler's to keep.


"I've told Dave that he doesn't need to be looking over his shoulder," Shula said. "He doesn't need to feel that if he makes one mistake, he may be yanked right out of there. I think you need to give the quarterback a vote of confidence."

In all likelihood, Cincinnati has seen the last of Esiason, the former Maryland quarterback who was the NFL's MVP in 1988 when he took the Bengals to the Super Bowl. There is a certain symmetry to the move. Esiason got the job under similar circumstances in 1985, when he replaced a Cincinnati legend named Ken Anderson.


"All I can say is I'm a little disgusted that it had to come down to this," Esiason said. "After eight years of busting my butt, it's come to this. That's the way it is."

Esiason hopes for a trade, but his age (31), salary ($3 million a year) and performance over his last 25 starts (24 TD passes, 31 interceptions, seven wins) may be hard to overlook. In a season when the 4-7 Bengals can neither run nor pass behind a patchwork line, Esiason has thrown for less than 100 yards three times. In Sunday's 19-13 loss to Detroit, he threw for only 64 yards with two interceptions.

He is averaging 5.1 yards per pass attempt this season. Earlier, Esiason proclaimed himself the "king of dink," acknowledging the Bengals' meager passing game.

The Bengals stunned the NFL last April by drafting Klingler. Time will prove the wisdom of the pick, but it was clearly the start of a youth movement. This week, that youth movement claimed its biggest name.

Quarterback shuffle

Esiason is the headliner in a frenzied week of quarterbacking intrigue. In Minnesota, Sean Salisbury, a former CFL quarterback, has replaced Rich Gannon as the Vikings' starter. In Chicago, Mike Ditka is talking about starting Peter Tom Willis over Jim Harbaugh. In Los Angeles, Todd Marinovich, the Raiders' starter two weeks ago, was demoted for the second time and is now third-team behind 37-year-old journeyman Vince Evans.

And in Cleveland, Browns coach Bill Belichick is trying to live down his decision to bench starting quarterback Mike Tomczak with a 13-3 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, a decision that backfired in a 17-13 loss to the Vikings.

When Tomczak threw his second interception of the third quarter, Belichick replaced him with Todd Philcox. After the Vikings got within 13-10, Audray McMillian intercepted a Philcox pass that deflected off Mark Bavaro's hands and returned it 25 yards for the go-ahead TD.


"I thought that Mike made a couple of decisions in the third quarter that weren't the best," Belichick said. "I felt if he could take a break for a series or so, it might help him settle down and play a little better later in the game."

Belichick never put Tomczak back in the game, though, and refused to blame the loss on his decision. "I wouldn't take all the credit for a win," Belichick said, "and at the same time, I don't feel that I take all the blame for a loss."

A failure to communicate

In the wake of a desultory 47-34 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Giants are grumbling again. Team captain Carl Banks criticized embattled coach Ray Handley this week for refusing to address a widening gap between players and coaching staff. Banks said Handley could utilize his captains to bridge that gap, but elects not to.

"If you want to get things done," Banks said, "you should appoint somebody as a guy he wants to voice some concerns with. I don't know if he talks to anybody on the team. And I think that could be part of our overall problem. It's something that needs to be addressed."

Said Handley, "I don't think there has to be a bridge. It's more or less an open forum. Any time a game plan is presented, it's not always dictated. Certain times things have to be dictated, but it's not always dictated."


At 5-6, the Giants are on the verge of elimination from the playoffs for the second straight year.


Giants QB Jeff Hostetler will miss tomorrow's game against the Dallas Cowboys because of a concussion he suffered against the Eagles. In his place, Kent Graham gets his first NFL start. . . . Eagles DT Mike Golic on the 3-hour, 42-minute marathon against the Giants: "At one point, I said to Mike [Pitts], 'Go get the tree. It must be close to Christmas.' " . . . How bad were the 3-8 Jets in a 24-3 loss to the Patriots? The Patriots came into the game with one rushing TD and got three. They came into the game with an NFL-low nine sacks and got four. "We made them look like world champions," said Jets tackle Irv Eatman. Not quite, Irv. . . . The 49ers are 6-0 in the NFC West, the only team still unbeaten in their division. Since the merger in 1970, seven of eight teams that swept their division have gone to the Super Bowl, and five of those teams won it. . . . Eric Dickerson's 107-yard rushing game for the Raiders against Denver was his first in 31 regular-season games.