Bengals may beach field

12-31-01, 4:35 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals aren't pleased with how their field has responded in cold weather and plan to explore options to replace the Paul Brown Stadium grass.

"We've gone two years with this and we were told this was the cutting edge and that it would work," said Bengals President Mike Brown Monday. "But it is pretty obvious it doesn't work when it comes to December weather."

The Bengals aren't sure what they can do, if anything, by next August. But they plan to look at different surfaces around the league to find out. Brown has been particularly impressed with how the grass has held up in Denver's new stadium.

The NFL is also discussing the situation with the club. The league considered fining the Bengals last season for the field conditions in that season finale, but in the end didn't hold them responsible. AFC spokesman Dan Masonson said Wednesday that the league is talking to "a few teams that are mainly cold-weather cities," about how their fields can be improved.

"We're going to look around the league and see which fields hold up and which ones don't and hope we can find something to improve it because it hasn't been a satisfactory field late in the year," Brown said.

Add Brown to the list of players and coaches disenchanted with the sandy condition of the grass during the 26-23 overtime win over Pittsburgh Sunday. It's a group chaired by Bengals kicker Neil Rackers and Steelers kicker Kris Brown, who each slipped to miss a

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combined two field goals and two extra points Sunday.

"The turf at that end of the field wasn't just bad, it was terrible," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher of the end where Rackers and Brown missed extra points.

Most Bengals said the conditions were bad, from running back Brandon Bennett ("It was terrible. I was spinning and slipping") to wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who might have scored the tying touchdown on a spectacular 26-yard run and catch if he hadn't slipped at the six-yard line.

"He was coming at me full speed," said Houshmandzadeh of Steelers cornerback Chad Scott. "So I said, 'I'll stop and go this way and l'll walk in.' I should have known the middle of the field is nothing but sand."

Which is what bothers Houshmandzadeh's boss. Mike Brown had hoped this year's permanent field of bluegrass would hold up better than last year's temporary Bermuda field. But there was still too much sand even though the Bengals re-sodded the middle of the field a month ago and that has Brown thinking of other possible bases. Such as clay.

"I don't want to rule anything out because there's 101 things you could do," Brown said. "Both this year and last year at the very end of the season we've had a sand field that isn't dissimilar to the beach.

"It's a good field in August and September and it's good enough in October," Brown said. "When it gets to November, it begins to show wear. By December it's gone. We could change the base. We could put more earth in there. We could take out part of the field or all of it. We're not sure what can be done, we just know it's necessary to improve."

Rackers hit eight of his 15 field-goal tries at PBS this season and was 5-for-7 in December with a missed extra point and his two field goal misses coming Sunday. His foes were nine of 13 for the season, but were 4-for-7 in December with a missed extra point.

"In his defense," Brown said of Rackers, "when the other kickers go on our field, I don't see much difference. They have their problems, too."

Last year, Rackers was 6-for-11 at PBS and 2-for-4 in December. Visiting kickers were nine of 14, but 0-for-2 in December with a missed extra point. Rackers is 6-for-10 on the road in each of his two seasons.

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