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Patriots Replay Wed Jun 03 | 12:00 AM - 11:59 PM

Ill-prepared Broncos look awful under the lights

DENVER (AP) That was no mirage, it was the supposedly unbeatable Champ Bailey getting beaten again and again and again.

And that wasn't the Patriots or the Eagles or the Colts, it was the lowly Cincinnati Bengals who embarrassed the Broncos and left much of Denver wondering how its team could look that bad on the big Monday night stage.

It may have been Cincinnati's first Monday appearance in 15 years, but it was also Denver's only appearance of this season, meaning there was little reason for the Broncos to come out flat.

Neither the coach nor the Broncos were available for interviews Tuesday, but after the game, the consensus was that, indeed, they simply didn't come ready to play.

They were more ready than we were,'' said coach Mike Shanahan, who apologized to his players for not getting them ready.I have to do a better job preparing these guys.''

Bailey, of course, got most of the attention, whether he deserved it or not.

The Broncos got him in the offseason to be left alone to handle the opponent's best receiver, and up to this point he had done fine. Against Chad Johnson of the Bengals, he allowed no fewer than five catches in single coverage, including a pair of 50-yarders _ one for the opening touchdown that set the mood for the evening.

I was thinking, `Let's go,''' Bailey said of his reaction when he realized the Bengals were going to go right at him.I'm not afraid of any challenge. That's just the way I roll.''

He took the worst of it, and maybe the most insulting result of it all was that the best Broncos cornerbacks Monday night were Deltha O'Neal and Tory James. Problem was, they're both former Broncos cornerbacks who now play for the Bengals, and each of whom had interceptions on Jake Plummer.

I think they were ready for a big game,'' Plummer said.I think we got outplayed.''

In addition to the general ineptitude, the rest of the league got to watch tackle George Foster end Bengals defensive lineman Tony Williams' season with a brutal cut block that, while not illegal, certainly looked dirty.

``I don't think it was a cheap shot,'' Foster said, ignoring the fact that a number of TV replays that showed the gruesome injury made the block appear out of line.

Denver may have lost tailback-turned-kickoff returner Quentin Griffin's for the season. Griffin twisted his knee on a kickoff return. Tests on the knee weren't disclosed Tuesday, but talk in the locker room Monday night was that it looked like an anterior cruciate injury, which often spells long-term rehabilitation.

Reuben Droughns, the player who knocked Griffin out of the starting lineup, ran for 110 yards for his third straight 100-yard game. This time, though, it did nothing to open up the offense.

Receiver Rod Smith, often the hardest working player on the team, said he was frustrated with himself because he made a mental mistake that cost the Broncos on a key play.

I never make that mistake,'' he said on a postgame radio interview,and I'm going to be mad at myself all the way home on the plane. But once the wheels touch down in Denver, we've got to forget about it and move on.''

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