Bengals' defense dedicates, then dominates

10-15-01, 1:35 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Takeo Spikes messaged Adrian Ross on his two-way Friday night and told him Jimmie Spikes had died.

Ten months after the doctors found a brain tumor in the father who had helped give his son the Japanese name of "great warrior," the last battle had been fought.

He couldn't play Sunday, Spikes told Ross, because he had to go home and prepare to bury his father.

"Then he messaged me back and told me to play my butt off for him," Ross said Sunday after playing in Spikes' spot at right outside linebacker. "I think he had confidence in me and that made it a little easier for him. He knows how I play. You guys know I'm an emotional player."

With their defensive captain/emotional leader grieving but watching back in Sandersville, Ga., everybody on the Bengals' defense was an emotional player in the economical 24-14 win over the Browns. Spikes' right-hand man, middle linebacker Brian Simmons, said they were back to flying around like they did in the first two games and the result was a decisive outing in which:

__The Browns' only two third-down conversions came in the fourth quarter against a scheme that defensive coordinator Mark Duffner told his player was more simplified.

_Cleveland's longest drive until the final 1:48 was 35 yards.

_A Bengals' run defense that allowed an average of 204 yards the past two weeks allowed Cleveland just 40.

_In rookie defensive end Justin Smith's coming out party, the No. 1 pick drilled Browns quarterback Tim Couch and his AFC-best 106 fourth-quarter passing rating with a key 12-yard sack early in the last quarter and then killed their last meaningful drive when he forced a holding penalty a play later.

"We definitely didn't want to let Takeo down," said defensive tackle Oliver Gibson. "We were trying to give him something to smile about. It's something I went through my rookie year. I know how hard it is. I know he smiled for a little while. I know we took his mind off his troubles for a little bit. You couldn't help but think of him. He's our guy. Our heart."

JoJuan Armour, who made his first NFL start at strong safety, saw the heart torn out of his defense at the unit's Friday night dinner at Benihana. Spikes got a call, briefly went outside and came back with the bad news. When Spikes said he couldn't play Sunday, Simmons thought he was joking until he studied his face.

"Takeo's one of our leaders and that's where that extra boost came from," Armour said. "He gets a game ball for that. Where would we be without him?"

There was no question Spikes wouldn't play. If anyone understood, it was Bengals President Mike Brown. The only Bengals' game he ever missed came 10 years ago when he chose to stay with his ailing father.

"Takeo chose to be with his family today and we

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certainly understand that. "Families are more important than football," Brown said.

Simmons said, "I think every player in here would have made the same decision. And if he were here, would he have been in it mentally? It was the only thing to do."

Right tackle Willie Anderson, Spikes' fellow captain, spoke to him Saturday night while they watched their Auburn alma mater upset Florida.

"It killed him not to be here," Anderson said. "With his family, it's the same thing with his team. His family depends on him for strength so much. He just couldn't leave. I know it's killing him to watch. He told me he was going to watch. It's a great win for him. I know he's tickled pink right now that we won."

The funeral is in Sandersville Tuesday, the players' off day, and Simmons expects he will be there. As well as many of is teammates. He's not sure when the team will give Spikes the game ball.

"There will be some more game balls," said head coach Dick LeBeau. "But No. 51 gets one for sure."

Smith has a legitimate chance to get his first one. The Browns just couldn't block him once the Bengals had the lead. As if to underscore the emotion of the day, Smith was still fuming about 20 minutes after the game about the Browns' constant holding.

"I was getting the calls. I got two holding calls," Smith said. "I'm glad to get the calls, but I had the sack. But we won, that's all that matters. . . .This one was for Takeo."

It's not exactly the way defensive coordinator Mark Duffner drew it up. Spikes, missing the first start in his 52-game career, and tackle Tony Williams (foot) were inactive. Starting left cornerback Rodney Heath (torn hamstring) went out probably for the year in the first quarter. Armour, who played in place of benched free safety Chris Carter, ended up playing about 70 snaps between base defense, nickel package and all the special teams.

"I could sleep right through Tuesday right now," Armour said. "The big thing today was that we didn't make a lot of mental mistakes like we did the past couple of weeks. We were lined up right and executed more consistently."

Smith had a sack, cornerback Mark Roman had a sack, and the team had a sack when Couch and running back James Jackson collided on a handoff and Bengals tackle Glen Steele recovered . They now have 13 sacks in five games, already half of last year's AFC-low 26.

"We didn't blitz any more than we usually do," Simmons said. "The line did a good job of just pressuring on their own, which you need. We didn't get as many sacks as we probably wanted, but we hit him. Sometimes that's better than getting the sack."

LeBeau said Spikes figures to be back to practice Wednesday.

"I thought about Takeo before the game and I thought about him during the game," Gibson said. "Especially when we broke the huddle because he's always yapping at us."

Even the guys on offense were thinking about him Sunday.

"(I was) thinking (to myself) is he back (at) home watching the game, what's he thinking and I was watching the defense and how excited they were," said quarterback Jon Kitna. "They played a great game and they were missing their emotional leader. I really hoped that he was enjoying the game back at home in the third quarter and the start of the fourth quarter."

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