11-11-01, 4:25 p.m. Updated:
11-11-01, 9:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. _ The Bengals lost the penalty flags, their cool, and the lead in no particular order during a nightmarish second half in which the Jaguars put up 23 unanswered points in Jacksonville's 30-13 victory here at ALLTEL Stadium.
The 3-5 Jaguars snapped their five-game losing streak by getting well against a Bengals team that lost ground in the AFC Central as their record slid to 2-2 in the division and 4-4 overall.
After the Bengals took a 13-7 half-time lead on Neil Rackers' career-long 52-yard field goal on the last play, Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell hit his first 10 passes of the second half to give the Jags a 28-13 lead in the first 14:14 of the third quarter.
"To do so well in the first half and then come out as flat as we did and let them dictate the game, it's sad," said Bengals right tackle Willie Anderson. "It's sad. We really let ourselves down and each other down. "We had the game. The emotion we were playing with in that first half, we couldn't carry it over. Jacksonville had it and they won it with their emotions."
The key play in the game was a 38-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Artrell Hawkins working against Jags receiver Jimmy Smith with 5:32 left in the third quarter and the Jags leading, 14-13. After even the Jacksonville radio crew questioned the call, Bengals defensive captain Takeo Spikes got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after talking to the officials. When the radioactive cloud cleared, it was a 53-yard swing and the Jags were on the Bengals 13 and rolling.
To a man, from head coach Dick LeBeau, to Hawkins, to Spikes, they all felt the Bengals lost their composure.
"It changed the momentum big time. They got a lot of yardage out of the mouth. It was my fault. I should have kept my composure. I hurt us," said Spikes, who still didn't know what he said to get flagged.
"It happens week in and week out. They talk to us, we talk to them," said Spikes of the officials. "I think he was just hot because he felt a lot of heat from other players on the team. Finally, when I got my chance to give my opinion about it, that's the only way he could fight back."
Spikes said the Bengals started celebrating after hearing that the initial call was Smith called for offensive pass interference when he tried to clear out Hawkins.
" Maybe I've got cataracts or something," said Spikes of his eyes. " I might need to get them checked."
What the Bengals' offense saw was a Jaguars' defense that rushed just four linemen and dropped the other seven players in a soft zone coverage that took away running back Corey Dillon (58 yards on 17 carries) and the long ball. Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna enjoyed his first 300-yard passing day ever with 303 on a career day for attempts (48) and completions (28). But with the passing zones clogged, the Jags were able to get to him for four sacks, the most the Bengals have allowed this season.
The Bengals' only two drives between the first two Jacksonville touchdowns of the second half got blown up early. One on right guard Mike Goff's hold and left guard Scott Rehberg's false start and the other on tight end Tony McGee's third dropped catch of the day as their momentum from Rackers' kick was wiped quickly away.
"We were sloppy, no question about that," LeBeau said.
On the second half's opening drive, Brunell started to find Smith and Keenan McCardell and when free safety Darryl Williams got flagged for a late hit, Brunell was in position to flip a five-yard touchdown pass to Smith working a fade pattern on Hawkins to give the Jags a 14-13 lead with less than five minutes gone in the half.
Then came the game's key play on the Jaguars' next drive. With Hawkins covering Smith on the inside on a route down the sideline, the Bengals were incensed when Hawkins was called for a 38-yard pass interference penalty after two flags were dropped in which the initial call was apparently on Smith. Then a conference ensued.
"I stayed in my back pedal a little longer than usual because they were running out routes," Hawkins said. "Then when I recognized the (long) route, I didn't turn around right away," Hawkins said. "I ran with him because he's so fast, you want to make sure you know where he's going where you think he's going. By the time I turned around and looked for the ball and tried to get a pick, I felt him grabbing on me."
With teammates urging him not to say anything about the officiating because of a possible NFL fine, all Hawkins could do was shrug and say he had ideal position: "You want to be between him and the sidelines and not much room on the outside."
But Hawkins also felt the team let the adversity get the best of them.
"I don't think we ever got back in the groove like we should have," he said.
Three plays later, Jags running back Stacey Mack scored from two yards out to put the reeling Bengals in a 21-13 hole with 4:25 left in the third quarter.
With Dillon carrying just twice for one yard in the first 18 minutes of the second half, the Bengals didn't get past the Jacksonville 44 during the second half until the final minute.
Brunell took a deep breath, got a big 15-yard run from Mack around the Bengals' right end and then rolled out right to hit McCardell on a 20-yard touchdown pass over the zone of safety Cory Hall and cornerback Mark Roman to make it 28-13 with 46 seconds left in the Jags' torrid third quarter.
Brunell hit 20 of 32 passes for 189 yards, with Smith (63) and McCardell (61) combining for 124.
The Jags got their final points of the game in the middle of the fourth quarter on a safety, when Jags defensive end Tony Brackens appeared to beat left tackle Richmond Webb for a second time for his second sack of the game. Brackens, the Jags' all-time sack leader, had come into the game with just one sack this season.
With Bengals wide receiver Darnay Scott out for the game with a first-quarter concussion, rookie T.J. Houshmandzadeh answered the call with the first three catches of his pro career to help give the Bengals the half-time lead. He finished with a team-high six catches for 62 yards.
Rackers took the cue and delivered the longest field goal of his career on a 52-yarder on the last play of the first half for his second field goal of the day and the club's longest since Doug Pelfrey's 54-yarder beat the Eagles at the 1994 Christmas Eve gun.
The Bengals made the push after losing Scott and later left guard Matt O'Dwyer early in the second quarter with a left knee sprain. O'Dwyer is out two to four weeks, but Scott should be back next week against Tennessee.
Houshmandzadeh and receiver Danny Farmer came off the bench to make third-down catches to keep alive
a 59-yard touchdown drive. Dillon, who finished the first half with 41 yards on 12 carries, capped the drive with his longest run of the day to that point on a seven-yard sweep to the left off an option pitch for the touchdown that gave the Bengals a 10-7 lead with 4:03 left in the half.
Houshmandzadeh and receiver Peter Warrick made the run possible with blocks on the cornerbacks as Houshmandzadeh took out Aaron Beasley and Warrick took out Fernando Bryant.
Dillon had trouble getting going against a Jag defense that lingered at the line of scrimmage. So a game after throwing 27 times in Detroit, Kitna threw 25 passes in the first half, hitting 14 for 148 yards.
Kitna's 32-yard pass to Warrick on third-and-seven got the Bengals back into a game they trailed, 7-3, with 9:33 left in the first half.
Rackers, pushed for his job back home by the practice squad's Jaret Holmes, kicked a 26-yard field goal to end a drive that had been set up by blitzing Darryl Williams' sack of Brunell.
The Bengals kept good pressure on Brunell with two sacks (the other on an inside blitz from the outside linebacker Spikes) and forced him out of the pocket several times. Brunell finished the half completing eight of 16 passes, but the longest was for just 14 yards.
The Bengals couldn't stay away from the game-changing mistakes and penalties early when they were backed up in their own end. A sack, a fumble, and a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on a punt put the Bengals into a 7-0 hole after the first quarter.
And their best drive of the quarter, a 13-play drive in which Dillon carried once, stalled when Warrick was called for going forward while he went in motion.
The penalty forced a punt, negating Kitna's third-down passes underneath the Jags' soft zone. Tight end Marco Battaglia caught one and Houshmandzadeh got one for his first NFL catch.
The tone for the first half got set in the first five minutes.
One play after Webb got a five-yard penalty for getting out of his stance too early, Brackens beat Webb inside on third down and knocked the ball from Kitna in the end zone for Kitna's fourth fumble of the season.
Kitna recovered at his one, and on the ensuing punt, Bengals linebacker Adrian Ross was called for unnecessary roughness to give the ball to the Jaguars on the Cincinnati 14. Five plays later, Mack scored from one yard out to give the Jags a 7-0 lead with 8:18 left in the first quarter.
The Bengals had the ball for 9:17 in the quarter and had no points. Dillon had 19 yards on five carries and Brunell hit five of nine passes for 42 yards.
The groin injury to Fred Taylor ( three 100-yard games against the Bengals), had straitjacketed the Jags' running game. Their running backs had combined for just 25 carries in the previous two games and against the Bengals they started Frank Moreau, a second-year player who came into Sunday's game with six carries. But Mack carried 15 times against the Bengals for 71 yards.
Robert Bean, the Bengals cornerback who missed the last game with a hamstring problem, responded well in pre-game warmups and started the game as the nickel cornerback.
The Bengals shelved veteran cornerback Tom Carter for the season on injured reserve Saturday after he re-aggravated his injured knee in Friday's practice.
His spot is taken on the roster by rookie Kevin Kaesviharn, whose journey from arena ball to the XFL to the NFL is now complete. With Carter gone, the Bengals are left with two rookie free agents in Kaesviharn and Bo Jennings and two second-year players in Bean and Roman out of the five cornerbacks who face Jacksonville's Pro Bowl passing game Sunday. Hawkins is the senior statesman with 53 NFL games compared to the combined 25 games from the other four.
Carter, a nine-year veteran, missed the last game with a partial tear of his posterior cruciate ligament, joins Rodney Heath on IR, where the Bengals now find their Opening Day starting left cornerback and nickel back.
"It's the kind of injury that's very difficult because of the position he plays," said Bengals trainer Paul Sparling. "There's a lot of running backwards and stopping and starting and there just wouldn't be any consistency of when he'd be available. He looked fine Wednesday and Thursday, but one break Friday put him right back where he was."
It marks the second straight Saturday before a game that Kaesviharn has been activated from the practice squad. Kaesviharn, 25, who was teaching high school gym in Sioux Falls, S.D., the week before his NFL debut against the Lions, has been on a whirlwind. He used last weekend's bye to go home and get clothes that he hadn't been able to pack because of his quick signing to the practice squad.
The Bengals took note of Kaesviharn's 23 interceptions in two years in the Arena Football League and three last year for the Los Angeles Demons in the XFL. He signed with the Packers after the XFL, but got cut at the end of training camp.
He didn't take a snap against Detroit, but played on special teams.