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9-27-01, 12:10 a.m.


The Bengals made four mistakes in Sunday's victory over Baltimore and three of them were Neil Rackers' missed field goals from between 39 and 45 yards.

"It was certainly a bittersweet victory. I sure didn't do much celebrating, I'll tell you that," said Rackers after he and holder Nick Harris stayed after practice for about 15 minutes Wednesday to work on their operation.

"Our timing was totally off," Rackers said. "That's what it boils down to, and it makes for a tough day."

Even though Rackers

drilled all three field-goal tries on Opening Day, he's not wholly comfortable yet with Harris in a relationship that becomes just a month old in Sunday's game in San Diego.

"The balls went straight, but they didn't have wonderful rotation on them," Rackers said. "We're still getting to know each other. He's working on his holding. I'm working on my kicking. If you look at our film, we were totally off. We didn't snap kick as much last week because of the rain. Everything was just off in all aspects."

Head coach Dick LeBeau passed the word to Rackers early this week: Watch the tape from Opening Day: "That's what I'll be doing in about 10 minutes, " Rackers said as he walked off the practice field.

WARRICK CONFIDENT: Peter Warrick still thinks he's the NFL's best punt returner after committing the Bengals' fourth mistake Sunday, which was dropping a punt on his own 17 with an 11-point lead that led to Baltimore's only touchdown.

"I still feel like I'm the best returner. I feel like that. I have to think positive," Warrick said. "If I get a chance to show what I got. . ." I'm depending on my guys, too. The same way they're depending on me. . .If I had got a block here or there, it could have been big."

Warrick would like to get a little more time by keeping the wing guy off him a few extra seconds, but he admits he has to know when to play it smart and call a fair catch. But he also admits it's not his style. He wouldn't mind seeing the Bengals change their blocking scheme and put two blockers on the outside instead of one.

"Other teams have a better chance to break it (with a double press)," Warrick said. "By the time you

(catch it), all those guys are out-of-bounds and all you have to make miss is the center."

Warrick went to special teams coach Al Roberts with his idea and got the explanation he expected and accepted.

"We single press so a team won't fake," Warrick said. "You have to play it smart and that's what we have to do is play it smart. I'll still make it happen.

"I want to make something happen, but I know there's a point in time I have to fair catch it. (But) I'm depending on my guys, too."

SPIKES HONORED: The NFL named Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes AFC Defensive Player of the Week Wednesday for his work in Sunday's win over Baltimore. Coaches' stats gave Spikes a team-high 11 tackles to go along with his 66-yard interception return. He's expected back for Thursday's practice after missing Monday and Wednesday to be with his ailing father in Sandersville, Ga.

"It's an honor, that's for sure," Spikes said Wednesday night while enroute from Atlanta. "After all this time I've been thinking things like the Pro Bowl just aren't going to happen, but then you get something like this when you really don't expect it. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be."

Also expected back to practice after missing Wednesday's workout is running back Corey Dillon. Dillon had to be in Seattle for a hearing stemming from last year's charge of fourth degree domestic violence. The case was settled without Dillon admitting guilt after he and his wife reconciled virtually immediately.

"Corey is serving an out-of-state probation, and he's now about halfway through it," said Jess Franklin's Dillon's lawyer. "Today's hearing was set because the Court wants to confirm that Corey has complied with all the requirements. The Court also wants to confirm that the counseling program Corey attends in Cincinnati meets the Washington State requirements. Corey has done everything he's been asked except for a lapse in filling out monthly reports. That has been corrected. We are confident the Court will find him in full compliance."


THIS AND THAT:** WR Danny Farmer, inactive for the first two games, says his torn lower abdomen muscle is getting better and he thinks he'll be healthy enough to play Sunday. . .CB Rodney Heath looked like his sprained knee held up Wednesday and is listed as probable. FS Darryl Williams didn't work and is questionable with a mid-foot sprain and a sore knee. C Brock Gutierrez is also questionable after breaking three small bones in his back. . .

Akili Smith returns to his native San Diego for the first time as a pro as the third quarterback: "I've got 180 tickets and I'm not even playing. It's nice to still have the support." **

ARMOUR AGAIN:** With the Bengals prepping for the magic mobility of Chargers quarterback Doug Flutie, look for the Bengals turn to their resident spy to get some snaps. Safety JoJuan Armour, a converted linebacker, says the spy package is back after he mirrored ("spied,") Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in last season's finale in Philadelphia on a lot of passing downs. Armour's solid effort against McNabb jacked his value when McNabb finished with just 198 passing yards passing and 20 yards rushing in the Bengals' 16-7 loss.

"Flutie is going to throw the ball on the run," said Armour, the third-year player out of Miami of Ohio. "When McNabb runs, he goes, he

takes the ball and runs with it. In his early years, Flutie would scramble a little bit more and he'd go with it.

"Now, in his later years, he doesn't want to run with the ball too much," Armour said. "He wants to get rid of it. On film, it's hard to believe he's been in the league all these years. He still looks quick, like a rookie just coming into the league. He's a competitor. A special man."

How long has Flutie, 38, been around? Kevin Coyle, the Bengals cornerbacks coach, first schemed against Flutie when he was a Holy Cross defensive assistant during Flutie's sophomore year at Boston College in 1982.

"How old were you then?" Coyle asked cornerback Robert Bean, and the answer would have been four years old.

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