Walking off the Riverfront Stadium carpet late Sunday afternoon, new Bengal quarterback David Klingler didn't look too bad for a guy who had just been sacked 10 times. With a three-day-old beard and a three-hour-old headache, he appeared worn out. But his eyes were still bright, and he walked without a limp, and he said he felt O.K., considering the brutal circumstances of his pro debut. "Nothing a few Advil won't cure," Klingler said, sounding almost chipper.
The Bengals had lost 21-9 to the Steelers, but Klingler, poised and possessed of a big league arm, definitely looked to be Cincinnati's quarterback of the future. These days it's impossible for any Bengal quarterback to look great, because Cincinnati (4-8) is so bad, especially on offense. The line, long a staple, is in massive disrepair: Injuries have probably ended the career of All-Pro tackle Anthony Munoz; five of the eight active linemen are free-agent pickups; and nine different players have started along the line. Moreover, the wide receivers round off their patterns instead of running precise routes, and tight end Rodney Holman, who used to be all-conference, is now all-dropped balls. Franchise quarterback Boomer Esiason has been having a dreadful season, which is why he was finally benched last week in favor of the untested Klingler.
It's so grim in the Bengal locker room that the wisecracking Esiason can barely get a rise out of his teammates anymore. "We're all waiting for our Dr. Kevorkian Christmas catalogs," he said last Saturday night. Indeed, the thrilling Super Bowl season of 1988 seems four decades, not four years, ago. Here's how far the offense has fallen.
AVERAGE YARDS PER
When rookie coach Dave Shula told Esiason he was being benched, following a 19-13 loss to the Lions, Esiason told him, "To be honest with you, the weight of the world is off my shoulders." Enter Klingler, the record-setting run-and-shoot quarterback out of Houston, who was Cincy's surprise first-round draft pick. A training camp holdout, Klingler hadn't played a competitive down since the Senior Bowl last January. But last week Shula's staff whittled the game plan from the usual 50 or so pass plays to 23, with only one deep pattern calling for a standard NFL seven-step drop back. In going mostly with short routes and three-and five-step drop backs, the Bengals were hoping to avoid the Pittsburgh rush.
It was a nice plan, but Klingler still had horrible protection. He completed 16 of 34 throws for 140 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. In addition to being sacked 10 times, Klingler was chased eight other times and forced to run with the ball. When he did have time to pass, he looked as accurate and strong-armed as he had in college.
As for Esiason, he'll probably be shopped around by Cincinnati come February. "I still see myself holding a Super Bowl trophy sometime in the future," Esiason, 31, said. "I know I've got great years still in me, but I don't see how they can be here. There's nothing physically wrong with me, and there shouldn't be any doubt about my ability.
"I don't feel like I'm at the beginning of the end. I feel like I'm at the beginning of a new beginning."
As is Klingler. But it doesn't look as if it'll be a smooth ride for either.
STATS OF THE WEEK
A special 49er edition of stats, in honor of San Francisco's 20-14 victory over the Eagles.
•The 10-2 Niners are the first team to win 10 or more games in 10 straight years.
•The alltime best winning percentage (minimum 100 victories) by a coach is the .740 of Vince Lombardi. With a 52-13 record in four seasons, San Francisco coach George Seifert's percentage is .800.
•In the first quarter Jerry Rice caught his 100th career scoring pass to tie the record Steve Largent set between 1976 and '89. Rice has averaged one TD catch every five quarters of his career, while Largent averaged one per eight quarters.
•San Francisco committed neither a penalty nor a turnover on Sunday.
In an unusual in-season development, some teams are trying to sign their best players to long-term contracts as a hedge against losing them in a liberalized free-agency system, which could be adopted in the coming off-season. The Cowboys have laid the groundwork for a new deal with running back Emmitt Smith, whose contract expires after this season, and the Packers are trying to sign their rising-star linebacker, Johnny Holland.
On Nov. 6 the Dolphins tore up the contract of linebacker Bryan Cox, who will likely make the Pro Bowl this season, and signed him to a four-year, $3.6 million deal. His original three-year contract, which was paying him $150,000 in base salary this year, would have run out after next season. "We wanted to correct a salary injustice," says Miami general manager Eddie Jones, "and we had our eye on the future. We bought two years of security in a very uncertain marketplace with that contract."
Despite the Falcons' disappointing 5-7 record, team sources say coach Jerry Glanville is not in danger of being fired. Last year Atlanta went 10-6 under Glanville to end an eight-year stretch of losing seasons, and reached the playoffs.... The Eagles gave Keith Byars a $100,000 bonus because, having been moved from running back to tight end, he wasn't getting a fair chance to meet some of the incentive clauses in his contract.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Dallas at Denver, Sunday. Paul Harvey should tell this one. The Cowboys haven't beaten the Broncos since the 1977 season, when Dallas defeated them twice, including a 27-10 win in the Super Bowl. Two bright young fellows helped choreograph the Cowboy offense that season. One was Mike Ditka, who was coaching Roger Staubach's receivers. The other was a 33-year-old rookie coordinator, who in the Super Bowl called for running back Robert Newhouse to throw his first option pass in two years. The result was a 29-yard TD throw to wideout Golden Richards.
It was a terrific call by a vibrant new NFL coaching star—Dan Reeves.
Tight end Charles Arbuckle, a fifth-round draft pick by New Orleans in 1990, had never even gotten into a game in brief stints with the Saints, the Browns and the Chargers, and he had yet to catch his first pass in 11 games with the Colts this year.
But last week Indianapolis coach Ted Marchibroda decided he needed to beef up his offensive line to stop Buffalo's standout pass rusher, Bruce Smith, so he moved Arbuckle up to the first unit and started two tight ends.
Buffalo still got to Colt quarterback Jack Trudeau for four sacks—including one by Smith—but the Bills forgot to keep an eye on Indy's extra receiver. Arbuckle caught nine passes for 106 yards, which was almost as stunning a development as the Colts' 16-13 overtime win. "I was in a zone today," Arbuckle said after the game, "and I guess the Bills didn't have any film of me."
No Steeler since 1946 has led the NFL in rushing, but here comes an unlikely candidate. "I don't have the breakaway speed a lot of backs have," says Barry Foster, "but I do have the speed to get chunks of yards at a time." After running for 102 yards and two touchdowns in Pittsburgh's 21-9 win at Cincinnati on Sunday, Foster had 1,319 yards on 295 carries and a 72-yard lead over 1991 rushing king Emmitt Smith of the Cowboys in this year's race.
Foster, who on Sunday broke Franco Harris's single-season Steeler rushing record of 1,246 yards, carried the ball only 132 times in his first two seasons. He had been a wishbone fullback at Arkansas, where as a junior he averaged 5.4 yards a carry. When his mother became ill and his family fell on financial hard times as a result, he left college a year early. Pittsburgh took him in the fifth round of the '90 draft.
"I was real disappointed to go that late," says Foster. "The Browns called me in the second round and said they were going to pick me, but they passed me by." Cleveland instead chose Leroy Hoard of Michigan. Foster has nine 100-yard games this year, and Hoard has 111 yards for the season.
Although the Steelers renegotiated the final year of Foster's contract before the season started—including incentives, he'll make about $600,000 in '92—he seems to be hoping for another big raise. "It's always going to be a money thing," says Foster. "What can you do with fame? Get the team into the playoffs, try to get a Super Bowl ring and get as much money as we can. That's what we're here for."
Here are the Steelers who have finished first or second in the NFL in rushing, and how Foster's stats (through 12 games) compare with theirs.
John H. Johnson