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Buffalo 27, Cincinnati 9

Dec. 29, 2002 at 8:01 PM   |   Comments

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y., Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Drew Bledsoe threw for one touchdown and ran for another score Sunday as the Buffalo Bills handed the Cincinnati Bengals a franchise-record 14th defeat, 27-9.

The Bengals, who lost for the 33rd time in 45 games under Coach Dick LeBeau, clinched the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft with a 2-14 record.

After reaching the Super Bowl twice in the 1980s, Cincinnati has suffered through 12 straight losing seasons.

"When your record is what it is, you can't talk too much about it," LeBeau said. "But if you look at us statistically, it's not where the record is. There is a lot of work to do, but it's not an insurmountable thing."

"There's things that have to be done," said Bengals fullback Lorenzo Neal, the team's lone representative in this year's Pro Bowl and who is eligible for free agency after the season.

"There has to be, from top to bottom, a commitment to want to win and to not just do it with words but mentally and physically preparing. I think you have to change the attitude of a lot of players. You have to get some winning players from winning teams. You have to change the history of this team."

Capping an outstanding first year in Buffalo, Bledsoe completed 23 of 31 passes for 230 yards to help the Bills (8-8) match a franchise record by registering a five-win improvement over last season.

"We like the fact we made improvement but unless you're in the playoffs you're never satisfied," said Bills Coach Gregg Williams, whose team was eliminated from playoff contentions last week in a 10-0 loss at Green Bay.

"Offensively we did a lot of things but the thing that held us back through the course of the season was at times we were not precise enough in our execution," said Bledsoe, who passed for 4,359 yards and 24 touchdowns. "The whole thing is bittersweet. We felt like we made progress but guys are a little frustrated."

The Bills took a 13-0 lead on a seven-yard run by Bledsoe 4:35 into the second quarter and the quarterback extended the advantage to 20-0 on a two-yard toss to Eric Moulds with 2:41 left in the half.

Larry Centers' four-yard run with 1:37 left in the third quarter made it 27-3 and the Bengals capped the scoring on a six-yard run up the middle by Jon Kitna with 8:05 remaining.

"This was how our season started and ended," Kitna said. "It seems like we couldn't score enough points offensively to win the game. We had a hard time getting going this week again early in the game."

Kitna went 19 of 35 for 241 yards and two interceptions and fell just shy of earning a $1.625 million bonus for being behind center for 80 percent of the Bengals' plays this season.

Chad Johnson caught six passes for 123 yards in the losing effort.

Moulds had nine receptions for 75 yards and one touchdown. He finished with 100 receptions on the season, breaking his 2000 team record by six catches. Peerless Price, who had five catches for 57 yards, finished with 94 receptions.

"Milestones are good but if I would've had the 100-catch season with us going to the playoffs next week, it would've been a lot better," Moulds said. "We have something else to shoot for."

"(I'm) very confident of the young nucleus we've developed," Williams said. "We'd like to take the next step and get in the playoffs. We've got to get a couple more holes filled and that will start tomorrow."

Peerless Price, who had five catches for 57 yards, finished with 94 receptions. He and tight end Jay Riemersma are free agents after the season.

"Every team deals with players coming and going," Bledsoe said. "Obviously Peerless and Jay are very important to this offense and have been, they're outstanding football players. We'd love to have them back. I know they both want to stay."

"Like I said all along, I'll take less (money) to stay here but I'm not going to take substantially less," Price said. "If it's comparable to what people are offering, then I'll stay here without a shadow of a doubt."

The Bills defeated the Bengals for the fifth straight meeting since losing the 1988 AFC Championship game here.

"Thank God I made the Pro Bowl," Neal said. "I just want to get in shape and get ready to get going when free agency starts."

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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