- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

These days, it’s easy to forget the NFL was born in Ohio.

Since 1990, the two teams from the state, the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, have combined for just three winning records and no playoff victories. Last year Cincinnati lost its final three games to blow a playoff berth and finish 8-8, while Cleveland was 4-12.

The recent problems have come from opposite sides of the ball.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was known as a defensive wizard when he arrived four years ago, but the Bengals have ranked better than 28th in the NFL in defense just once in his tenure. Dumping coordinator Leslie Frazier for Chuck Bresnahan in 2005 certainly wasn’t the answer.

Cincinnati lost safety Kevin Kaesviharn and linebacker Marcus Wilkins to free agency and cut linebacker Brian Simmons this month but added no one on defense. Asked where the new talent was, Lewis pointed to 2006 rookies Johnathan Joseph, Ahmad Brooks and Frostee Rucker, who combined for just 14 starts last year. The coach also said the Bengals will draft for defense next month.

While Cincinnati can’t stop opponents, Cleveland can’t score under coach Romeo Crennel. The Browns’ offense managed just 22 touchdowns in 2006, then traded running back Reuben Droughns, one of just two players to score more than three times. To replace Droughns, who averaged just 3.4 yards on 220 carries, Cleveland signed Jamal Lewis from Baltimore. Lewis’ average per carry — 3.6 yards — wasn’t much better than Droughns, but he did reach the end zone nine times.

Don’t be surprised if the Browns use the No. 3 pick on Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson even though they have Lewis.

“Let’s say hypothetically we take a back in the draft,” said Crennel, who probably needs a winning season to save his job after going 10-22 in his first two years. “Then it’s competition, and Jamal’s going to compete like he always has.”

Lewis, who costs just $500,000 more than Droughns would have, is on a one-year contract. Although the Ravens have been much better than the Browns on the ground during his seven seasons, Lewis said he’s excited because Cleveland has invested heavily in four free agent offensive linemen — including ex-Cincinnati guard Eric Steinbach this month — the past two years, while Baltimore kept letting his blockers skip town.

Lewis is the sixth ex-Ravens player signed by Browns general manager Phil Savage, formerly Baltimore’s college scouting director.

Not marching back to Georgia — Atlanta, which lost out to Tampa, Fla., for the February 2009 Super Bowl and to Miami for the 2010 game, has withdrawn its bid for 2011. That leaves Dallas, Indianapolis and Phoenix as the three contenders three days before the bid deadline. The winner is expected to be picked at the NFL’s May meeting.

Those involved in Atlanta’s recent bids believe their chances were hurt by the ice storm that hit the city the day before the game in January 2000.

While the league tends to reward cities that build new stadiums with Super Bowls — think Detroit two years ago — Indianapolis (whose retractable roof stadium opens in 2008) and, to some extent, Dallas (a similar facility in 2009) will have to fight fears of cold weather in February. Neither city has played host to a Super Bowl. Phoenix, on the other hand, has this season’s game and thus would have two Super Bowls in five years if it’s awarded the 2011 contest.

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