15 minutes of lame sparks defense

12-8-01, 10:15 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

14:14.

The first 14:14 of the third quarter. That's all it took last month for the Jaguars to stun the Bengals' defense with 204 of their 261 yards for the game in three drives for 21 points.

Now consider since the Jaguars went up, 28-13, with 46 seconds left in the third quarter of their 30-13 win back on Nov. 11. In the last 195 minutes and 46 seconds, the Bengals' defense has allowed two touchdowns, not given up more than 294 total yards, 200 yards passing, or 20 points.

"We had that lapse and they took advantage of it," said defensive captain Takeo Spikes. "Really, this is a game we really don't like them. There's still a bad taste in the mouth from that game."

Everyone agrees they lost their cool with 5:32 left in the third quarter and the Jags leading, 14-13. The 38-yard pass interference call on Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins incensed the sidelines and distracted the guys on the field enough that the Jags got handed the touchdown when Spikes was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for complaining.

"With our damn luck," Spikes said with a smile, "we'll get the same ref."

He's smiling because his defense has been downright unfriendly. That 14:14 appears to have been a turning point.

"We're playing with that confidence we haven't had in awhile," said strong safety JoJuan Armour. "We want people to respect us and show the league we belong."

Hawkins: "We obviously learned from that game. It was a tough lesson. But we applied that lesson."

Class will be tougher Sunday against the Jags' Hall-of-Fame-potential trio of quarterback Mark Brunell and receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver is talking about dismantling his 3-8 team after the season, but those three guys can dismantle a pass defense and the Bengals have to be wary with Hawkins looking like he'll be out for what amounts to his third straight game with a high ankle sprain.

Brunell, who personally nearly beat the Packers Monday night, is showing signs of respect for a defense against which he has a 6-3 record as a starter.

"They play with some emotion, a lot of enthusiasm," Brunell said.

"What I see on the film is guys are flying around. When we played them the last time, they were hungry. They wanted to win the ballgame. They were competing and in years past you didn't always see that out of the Bengals. Now you do. No question about that."

Throw in the fact that Jacksonville's lone touchdown in the first half came on a 14-yard drive, and the Bengals think they can keep their streak of defensive masterpieces going despite the Jags' occasional effective use of the no-huddle offense.

That's because when Brunell ran the no huddle Nov. 11 in the first half, the Bengals handled it. Jacksonville got just 70 yards and 13 of them on the ground before going more conventional in the decisive third quarter.

And, remember, the Jags started doing the no-huddle two weeks before they beat the Bengals and that's the only game they've won since starting 2-0. Since beating Cincinnati, the Jags have averaged less than 300 total yards and 265 yards passing, so the no-huddle hasn't been an answer.

Spikes isn't all that concerned with the no-huddle because of his buddy, middle linebacker Brian Simmons.

"What they want to do is get their receivers on the field and not give you a chance to substitute," Spikes said. "Jacksonville knows we don't care and we don't make many substitutions. If we had time, we'd want to get a DB out there. If we don't, it's not the end of the world. I'll take (Simmons)."

Simmons, who has the speed to cover a receiver in a worst-case scenario, says the tempo of the no-huddle isn't much different. He says the Jags don't do it to get four wides on the field, but three with a running back and tight end. Brunell calls that the Jags' best formation, where Simmons will probably end up on tight end Kyle Brady.

"It's not that big of a deal," said defensive tackle Oliver Gibson. "The only thing that really happens is they spread you out and you can't communicate, so you have to yell to each other."

Brunell likes the advantages of the no-huddle: ability to see defensive personnel along with the defense's penchant for playing more basic coverages and less blitzes.

But there are also enough down sides to the no-huddle that Brunell sees it as a week-to-week decision to be made at certain points in a game. After getting the lay of the land in the first quarter, the Jags decide what they want to do with it.

"You get to see what coverage they're in, but teams like Cincinnati are good at disguising what they're doing. There's not as much of an advantage. It can get real predictable at times in the no huddle because they're expecting you to pass and most of the time that's usually what they get."

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