Bengals record 14th loss, lock up No. 1 draft pick

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 30, 2002

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Fullback Lorenzo Neal's cackle echoed through the locker room, summing up yet another laughable Cincinnati Bengals' season.

Running back Corey Dillon got Neal going when he said, ''See you in Georgetown next year.'' Dillon was referring to the Kentucky town where the Bengals train.

Neal is eligible to become a free agent in March and isn't expected to return to Cincinnati. Upon hearing Dillon's remark, Neal stopped in mid-sentence and sarcastically said, ''Yeah,'' before breaking into an uncontrollable laugh.

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The bungling Bengals (2-14), who haven't had a winning season in 12 years, set franchise lows for fewest victories and most losses Sunday, falling 27-9 to the Buffalo Bills. In finishing with the NFL's worst record, all the Bengals have to look forward to is the No. 1 pick in the draft.

That's no consolation to Dillon.

''I'm not happy. I'm not happy at all. But hey, it's over,'' he said. ''It's said and done with. There's nothing I can do about it, so I ain't going to worry about it.

''The record speaks for itself.''

That thought was echoed by Takeo Spikes, also eligible for free agency

''It's very frustrating, depressing,'' Spikes said. ''If I was a gas tank and I had to measure how much gas I had in me, it would be past 'E' right now. I'm running on fumes.''

Teams heading in opposite directions closed out the season with the Bills showing they have the more promising future.

Ending their season by getting strong performances from both their offense and defense, the Bills (8-8) made significant strides in erasing the dreadful memories of last year's 3-13 finish. Buffalo's five-win 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 season.

''I think we have something to build on,'' receiver Eric Moulds said. ''We wanted to play hard. We could have finished the season 7-9 or 8-8, and 8-8 sounds better.''

Quarterback Drew Bledsoe was left with mixed emotions in wrapping up his first season with the Bills.

''We are disappointed with what has happened this year but at the same time optimistic in looking ahead to next year,'' Bledsoe said.

Bills owner Ralph Wilson was encouraged.

''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.''

Bledsoe finished 23-of-31 for 231 yards with a touchdown pass and scored on a 7-yard run. Moulds had nine catches for 75 yards and a touchdown, and became the first Buffalo receiver -- and 39th in NFL history -- to reach the 100-reception plateau.

Larry Centers scored on a 4-yard run, and Mike Hollis hit field goals from 32 yards and 25 yards for Buffalo.

The game was over before halftime because the Bills scored on four of their first five possessions to open a 20-0 lead.

Cincinnati scored on quarterback Jon Kitna's 6-yard run and Neil Rackers' 19-yard field goal.

''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 expected to make a decision on his coaching staff as early as this week.

Notes: The game cost Kitna the most. He came up 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. He also fumbled once and twice failed to convert fourth-down attempts.