Bengals defense stands up

BY GEOFF HOBSON

CLEVELAND _ It was Dick LeBeau's second win as the Bengals' head coach. But Sunday's 12-3 victory here over the Browns was the first one he could savor as the defensive coordinator.

His defense offered a goal-line stand, a safety and the fewest points allowed by the club in eight seasons.

"Last time I looked, it's all about winning," LeBeau said. "We'll take a 3-0 win or a 41-38 win. The defensive coordinator wouldn't be happy with that, but I guess the head coach would be happy about that."

The head coach was happy with the goal-line stand midway through the third quarter and the Bengals leading, 10-0.

But the Bengals weren't happy with the 38-yard pass interference call on cornerback Rodney Heath defending receiver Kevin Johnson that put the ball on the Cincinnati 1 to set up the stand.

That was the biggest play of the day against a defense that blitzed liberally and put their cornerbacks one-on-one more than it had been lately.

The longest Browns' rush was a 10-yarder by rookie running back Travis Prentice and the longest pass was rookie quarterback Spergon Wynn's late 32-yard heave to Johnson.

"We felt they got down there with a cheap penalty," said defensive tackle Oliver Gibson. "That was most of their offense for the day. No way we were going to let them score. Everybody got low and basically kept their assignment."

Gibson and rookie middle linebacker Armegis Spearman stuffed Prentice up the middle on the first play. Spearman plugged the middle again on second down. Then on third down he teamed with Billy Granville, a special teams linebacker who plays only on short-yardage and goal-line situations, to pop the airborne Prentice short of the end zone.

That forced Phil Dawson to kick an 18-yard field goal with 1:56 left in the third quarter.

"They ran a lead play up the middle and pretty much I was coming from the left and Billy was coming from the right," Spearman said. "I figured they were going to run it, but I didn't know if he was going to jump or try to take it outside.

" You just have to read the play on the run and then I knew he was going to jump. . .They tried to get a high rise over the goal line, but I think we both got a piece of him. . .They have a big fullback and a pretty good sized running back, they were going to try and punch it in."

Spearman thought holding Cleveland to three points gave his unit "an emotional lift," because they gave up 14 points early last week against Denver.

"There was great line surge," LeBeau said. "(Prentice) had to get up there sooner than he wanted to, and that's a critical thing on that play. And then we did get the diving lanes clogged up pretty well. It was a great goal-line stand."

But it wasn't any greater than defensive end Vaughn Booker's play midway through the fourth quarter.

On the goal-line stand, Booker told Browns right tackle Steve Zahursky after each play there would be no score in a facemask-to-facemask debate. Then Booker made sure there would be no win.

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With the Browns at their own 5 on a first-and-15 and Doug Pederson now the man in Cleveland's desperate quarterback rotation, Booker blew by left tackle Roman Oben in the end zone.

Booker had warned the officials earlier in the game that Oben likes to hook. This time they caught him and since it was holding in the end zone, the Bengals had a safety with 8:26 left in the game and the Browns now needed two scores for a win.

"I was just trying get some corner pressure and force (Pederson) to step up into my tackles," Booker said. "Oben grabbed his arm around me. When I reached for Doug, (Oben) tugged me a little bit and they called it. I got by him on an outside rip and as I reached Doug, Oben had his arm around my neck and that's it."

Three weeks ago, Booker was considering retirement after undergoing a battery of tests following his fainting spell Sept. 17 in Jacksonville.

Sunday, he was savoring the work of a defensive line that allowed just 54 yards rushing on 20 carries. That was after five games in which the Bengals had averaged allowing 4.5 yards per rush.

He's still trying to work himself back into shape, but defensive line coach Tim Krumrie's rotation, "is one of the great things that complements this team. We've got a lot of linemen that can play and our backups can be starters on every team in this league."

Booker admits, "physically I've got a long way to go. But mentally I'm right on track. And I'm glad to be back. And I want these guys to know I'm in their corner."

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