11-25-2002-UNKNOWN

11-25-02, 8:15 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

On the offensive side of the ball, T.J. Houshmandzadeh took the blame for Sunday's loss. In fact, he said, "I feel like I've lost the last two games."

On defense, strong safety JoJuan Armour took blame after being re-inserted into the starting lineup for the first time since September because of his ability to stop the run.

But when the dust cleared, the Steelers gouged the NFL's next-to-worst run defense for 156 yards and Armour had a pass interference penalty that led to a Steeler field goal in the third quarter that extended Pittsburgh's lead to 20-14.

"I feel like I let Coach LeBeau down and Coach Duff (Mark Duffner) down," Armour said. "Because I had the opportunity to make a difference and I don't feel like I did that. I feel like I hurt the team more than any thing. Just in general. Little things here and there."

But there were stretches when the defense played like the No. 9 defense of last year, particularly in the second half and especially on a three-and-out

just after the Bengals took a 21-20 lead with 8:35 left in the game.

And the defense set up the score when linebacker Canute Curtis led a charge to stuff a fourth-and-one at the Bengals 36 when they sand-blasted Kordell Stewart's quarterback streak.

"Our defense can be among the the best in the league" Armour said. "For a second, we felt we had that energy. Everybody was after it. We knew we were going to win."

Linebacker Takeo Spikes felt the defense played better because they focused on stopping the run until running back Jerome Bettis broke his final run for a 24-yard touchdown. Until then, he had just 55 yards on 21 carries and a front line playing without Oliver Gibson and Vaughn Booker held up well with Glen Steele and Bernard Whittington, and tackle Tony Williams picked up his team-leading fourth sack.

But like they have all year, the Bengals were hurt by the unconventional runs. Stewart had 40 yards on 10 carries and receiver Hines Ward ripped off a 39-yard on the kind of reverse run that has killed this fast-flow defense. This one to the defense's right hurt even more because the Bengals prepped for it all week and it busted on the first drive.

"I came up to turn it inside and it was me and about seven Steelers," said cornerback Artrell Hawkins. "We have to be play assignment perfect. I don't know what happened, but I'm going to lose that one most of the time."

And Stewart, who couldn't do anything right at the beginning of the season, took a dose of the Bengals to get into the Steelers' record book by completing 85 percent (22-for-26) of his passes.

Armour's penalty came when former Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle-El moved over from receiver to quarterback to take a shotgun snap. Armour knew it was coming. The Bengals called out the check, but wide receiver Plaxico Burress ran wide open down the field. Armour never found the ball and ran straight into Burress to prevent him from scoring a touchdown.

"We were in Cover 2 (a deep zone) and I had two guys coming up fast on me," Armour said. "I favored Hines instead of Plaxico and when Hines broke it off, I went to Plaxico, it was just too late. It was my fault regardless of who could have helped me. I take total responsibility. I let the team down."

SLANTS AND POSTS: Rookie Matt Schobel caught his second touchdown pass of the season Sunday, the 20-yarder from Jon Kitna that put the Bengals ahead with 8:35 left in the game. An impressive play, given that he beat both a linebacker and safety. It's the first time a Bengals' tight end has caught more than one scoring pass in a season since 1999. They haven't had more than two since 1997, when Tony McGee had six. Schobel now has 16 catches for 148 yards, the same number of yards McGee had in the same number of games last year before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. . .

With 60 yards on 19 carries Sunday, Bengals running back Corey Dillon needs 52 yards this Sunday to become the fourth man in history to rush for 1,000 yards in his first six seasons.

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BURRIS BACK:** Jeff Burris came up from his cornerback spot to make a big stop in the fourth quarter, but he was just glad to be up and walking around without his head being on fire. Burris only played a few snaps last week and missed most of practice this week as he coped with a devastating series of migraine headaches that lasted up to three hours at a time.

But with new medication, Sunday

was his second pain-free day and he's hoping he won't have to go to the Cleveland Clinic for more tests Tuesday. The coaches decided to go slow with him against the Steelers to see how he reacted to the medication, so he didn't play regularly until the second half.

That left Kevin Kaesviharn to do battle with the Steelers and he had a rough go early. He tried to make a play on a deep sideline pass to Hines Ward, didn't get it, and then wasn't in position to make the tackle as Ward wheeled away for a 64-yard touchdown.

Burris also got beat by Ward on the Steelers' next to last play of the game for a 37-yarder. Working off a play-action fake, Burris, and then cornerback Artrell Hawkins coming over to help, had Ward pretty well covered. But Stewart put it right over Ward's shoulder.

"They did a good job game planning at the end," Burris said, and Hawkins said, "I could have been back there more because that was a long way for Jeff to run, especially on play-action, but they made a good play."

Burris had migraines in college at Notre Dame, but never like the ones that drove him to his knees the past two weeks and had him lying on the training room floor with the lights off. Monday is a key day for him because they want to see how the medication and the headaches react to exertion.

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