THERE WAS A little bit more than 14 minutes left in the game yesterday when Cincinnati Bengals running back Corey Dillon took a handoff and was smothered by Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary for a 2-yard loss.
Dillon got up and slammed the ball to the ground. He stormed off the field only to be waved back on by Bengals coach Bruce Coslet. Dillon, though, waved off Coslet like Brady Anderson once blew off a bunt signal. He took a position on the bench, where he was comforted by teammates.
That's only one sign that Coslet has lost control of his team.
Another came about a half-hour later: Ravens 37, Bengals 0, before an announced crowd of 68,481 at PSINet Stadium.
The Bengals (0-3) have replaced the Cleveland Browns as the armpit of the National Football League. Star players such as Dillon and receiver Carl Pickens no longer want to play there, and quality free agents would prefer to play in the Arena League than Cincinnati.
That leaves Bengals owner Mike Brown with only one choice: fire Coslet. Now. Do the league and fans of Cincinnati a favor. You owe them as much. The bulk of that new $450 million stadium and training complex came from their tax money.
Coslet couldn't even win in new Paul Brown Stadium, losing 24-7 to the Browns.
But if that loss was a disappointment, then the defeat to the Ravens (3-1) was an embarrassment. The Bengals had 4 yards rushing yesterday. They had 90 yards passing. They converted only two of 11 third-down situations and had the ball 17 minutes less than the Ravens.
The Bengals have been shut out the last two games and have scored one touchdown this season. They have gone 34 straight possessions without a point, and in 37 possessions this season the Bengals have scored one touchdown and missed three field goals.
Inept. Incompetent. Complacent.
Choose any adjective, but here are words that need to come from Brown's lips: "Bruce, we thank you for your contributions to Cincinnati's football team, but we have decided to go in a new direction."
It should be a short conversation, about as short as Coslet's post-game news conference yesterday. But what can you say when your team has only 44 offensive plays and averages 2.1 yards per play? Or when your defense gives up 391 yards to an offense that has sputtered most of the season?
"I'm going to be short," Coslet said. "You saw the game. Congratulations to the Ravens. They played a heck of a football game and we didn't play very well at all. I'll just leave it at that."
It won't get much better for the Bengals this season. Their quarterback - second-year player Akili Smith - has started only nine games. He lasted less than 18 minutes yesterday before Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett crushed him on a sack, forcing Smith to leave with a concussion.
Until Smith gets his head together, the team's current quarterback is Scott Mitchell, who was once described last season as a "water buffalo" and lasted just six quarters as the Ravens' starter. Mitchell threw two interceptions yesterday, finally completing passes to guys in Ravens uniforms.
The Bengals start two rookie wide receivers, and the only hope they have for winning is a decent defense, which is already wearing down because it is on the field so much.
The Bengals aren't at the bottom of the barrel, but underneath it.
"I keep saying we've got to do something every week," Smith said. "Nothing ever gets done, but I keep saying it. There is nowhere to go but up."
First, Brown has to push Coslet out. People around the league have wondered for years how Coslet has kept his job. He was 26-38 as coach of the New York Jets from 1990 through 1993. And he was 21-36 in 3 1/2 seasons with the Bengals before jumping off to another flying 0-3 start this season.
Coslet's teams have been known for rallying late in the season, but the bottom line is the win-loss record. He doesn't deserve to get to that point this season.
"I've never been in that situation," Ravens right offensive tackle Harry Swayne said. "And I don't want to be. They have been in that situation a lot over the years, so they've got a pretty good idea of how to handle it. But it looks bleak."
It's only week No. 4, but other players seemed to have quit besides Dillon. Free safety Darryl Williams' effort to stop Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe on a 1-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter was about as lame as it gets.
The Ravens had 10 penalties for 90 yards, halting drives and keeping ones alive for the Bengals, but Cincinnati couldn't capitalize on the opportunities.
The Bengals are dead, and so are the team's chances for attracting free agents. Pickens was fortunate. He openly criticized the organization after last season, questioning why Brown had allowed Coslet to return after the Bengals finished 4-12. The Bengals eventually gave Pickens his release. Dillon wasn't so lucky. As a restricted free agent last season, he signed a one-year, $3 million contract.
But the word is out. No one wants to play in Cincinnati.
"Hey, there is always a price for somebody, but players in this league know where they want to go," said Swayne, who signed a free-agent deal with the Ravens two seasons ago. "They want to go to winning teams, and Cincy has not been winning games the last few years. It's a tough place to play. I wasn't thinking about there. Coming off two Super Bowl rings in Denver, why would I think about going there?"
After yesterday's game, the Bengals were trying to find motivation. They talked about, and justifiably so, how the Ravens ran up the score and tried to embarrass them in the fourth quarter when Ravens coach Brian Billick let his emotions override his brain. They talked about getting revenge Nov. 5 when the Ravens go to Cincinnati.
But the key for this franchise will be an internal decision. Brown sat in the press box yesterday, his face, as long as the field, planted in the palm of his left hand.
He seemed to wrestle with a decision, but this one is a no-brainer. Coslet is in the last year of a four- year contract, and the penny-pinching Brown won't have to pay him a cent if he isn't retained at the end of the season. If Coslet had gone to the playoffs one time in the last four years, his contract would have rolled over to the 2001 season.
Instead, it's the Bengals who have rolled over.
Now it's time for Brown to put an end to this mess. Fire Coslet now.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Cleveland Browns
Site: Cleveland Browns Stadium
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Series: Ravens lead 2-0.
Last meeting: Ravens won, 41-9, on Nov. 7, 1999, at Cleveland.
Ravens' results, schedule
Date Opponent Res./Time
9-3 at Pittsburgh W, 16-0
9-10 Jacksonville W, 39-36
9-17 at Miami L, 19-6
9-24 Cincinnati W, 37-0
10-1 at Cleveland 1 p.m.
10-8 at Jacksonville 8:35 p.m.
10-15 at Washington 1 p.m.
10-22 Tennessee 1 p.m.
10-29 Pittsburgh 1 p.m.
11-5 at Cincinnati 1 p.m.
11-12 at Tennessee 1 p.m.
11-19 Dallas 4:15 p.m.
11-26 Cleveland 1 p.m
. 12-3 Open
12-10 San Diego 1 p.m.
12-17 at Arizona 4:15 p.m.
12-24 New York Jets 1 p.m.