It's this simple:

The Cincinnati Bengals' special teams played a winning Super Bowl game for 60 minutes. Their defense played a winning Super Bowl game for 57.Their offense did not play a winning Super Bowl game. Their MVP quarterback and their very hot running back came up small in the big one. Their offense - maybe, just maybe - played a winning preseason game.

That is what had offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet fuming in the dank tunnel outside the Bengals' losing locker room Sunday night.

"Quite frankly," Coslet said after San Francisco's 20-16 win in Super Bowl XXIII, "our offense didn't carry its weight today. The play-calling was excellent, mine and Sam's. On our first 10 possessions, we have five runs and five passes on first down. That's balance."

Coslet was particularly upset that the Bengals had to settle for a 43-yard field goal in the third quarter after holding the ball for 13 plays.

"Figure that one out," he said. "We've got to take that in. That's the problem we had last year. I thought we solved those problems. But we did some stupid stuff, and I'm not happy at all with our performance ....

"That was not the Cincinnati Bengals out there. That was ridiculous."

Of all that was unexpected Sunday, the most unexpected was the failure of the Bengals' offense to score a touchdown. This is the team that scored 59 touchdown in the regular season and six more in two playoff games. In Super Bowl XXIII, they scored three field goals.

They had 12 possessions, and got into 49ers' territory three times.

The incredible thing is, they almost won.

The offense sputtered for two reasons:

-The failure of the passing game, a failure that was also evident in the playoffs. The most amazing statistic of this postseason is that Boomer Esiason, the league's MVP, threw for 346 yards in the three postseason games. Sunday, Joe Montana had 357. This game was Boomer's stage, his chance to prove his greatness once and for all. He didn't do it.

Esiason (11 for 25, 144 yards, no touchdowns, one interception) was plagued by his receivers' rounding off their routes, by his aching left shoulder and right ankle, and by a left index finger that was sprained a month ago and still isn't right.

-The Bengals lived by the run so long they forgot what made them good: a diversified attack. "When you run for so long," said one offensive player, "and then you have to pass all of a sudden, you can't just make a U-turn and expect it to work."

They'd lived on Ickey Woods' five straight 100-yard-plus rushing games. But Sunday, Woods rushed on successive plays only twice, and he carried 20 times for 79 yards.