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Bitter reunion

10-7-02, 6:10 a.m. Updated:
10-7-02, 7:25 a.m.


INDIANAPOLIS _ It had to be Jeff Burris' worst nightmare. But he wasn't saying after he returned to the RCA Dome and tried to cover his friend and former teammate Marvin Harrison.

In fact, Burris said nothing after his first regular-season game in the town where he played the previous four seasons before he signed a three-year, $4.5 million deal with Cincinnati in the offseason.

In fact, he hasn't been talking since last week's loss to Tampa Bay, in which he apparently felt the media mishandled how the Bengals blew two pass coverages for touchdowns.

But what is clear Sunday is that Harrison, the Colts Pro Bowl wide receiver, ran wild with nine catches for 145 yards Sunday with Burris trying to cover him most of the time. The killing third-and-six play conjured up memories of last week when Harrison ran uncovered down the right sideline past Burris for a 69-yard pass on the last play of the third quarter that set up the Colts' winning touchdown.

To make matters worse, Colts cornerback Walt Harris, who the Bengals also pursued in free agency before he signed with Indy, had two interceptions Sunday.

Yet Burris didn't have much help. The Bengals never came close to sacking quarterback Peyton Manning and rookie free safety Lamont Thompson took the blame for the 69-yarder. The only thing they got out of their poor pass rush was blitzing

cornerback Artrell Hawkins' roughing the passer penalty at the end of the big play to Harrison. Harrison also set up the Colts' first touchdown on third down, getting position on Burris down the middle for a 30-yarder on third-and-1, and Burris got bailed out on a 34-yard pass interference call against Harrison when cornerback Artrell Hawkins came up with an end-zone interception.

But Burris, the NFL Players Association representative while with both teams, had plenty of support in each locker room.

"He's one of the toughest corners that I face," Harrison said. "He doesn't have the help that a lot of other DBs have in this league. He's out there by himself."

Hawkins praised Burris for having a hand in his end-zone interception early in the fourth quarter. He said Burris tipped the pass intended for Harrison.

Thompson, who plays on passing downs, took the blame for his role in what was described as a "soft cover 2 zone," on the 69-yarder.

"I just didn't get over where he was at," Thompson said. "It's a play I should and can make. I had to get over to where No. 1 was because he was running a vertical (route). I settled (in the middle) but I had two verticals pressing me."

The Bengals did a superb job playing the run and icing Colts running back Edgerrin James. They held him to 60 yards on 22 carries and broke his home streak of 10 straight 100-yard games. He also had just three catches for 10 yards, but it may have come at a price as Manning's lethal play-action passes kept the rush at bay even when they blitzed.

"When they are playing the run," Manning said, "it's nice to be able to throw deep and mix in some play action."

On the 69-yarder, the Bengals were in their "nickel blitz," in which Hawkins is rushing: "I shook down Edgerrin James pretty good and it was another second or two and I would have sacked him. When he got set to throw, I jumped up and tried to swat it and my hands hit him on the helmet as I came down and they got me for roughing."

It's been a tough two weeks for the secondary after they gave up three touchdown passes of at least 22 yards last week against Tampa Bay. Hawkins' interception marked the first one by a defensive back all season.

"To me, that was the deciding factor in the game," said middle linebacker Brian Simmons. "We aren't good enough to have those kind of breakdowns. We have to be 100 percent. We did the same thing last week. We can't keep giving up 60-yard plays."

The Bengals shackled James without Simmons for more than half the game. Adrian Ross came off the bench when Simmons hurt his neck in the second quarter and played well. The Bengals are hoping Simmons doesn't have a pinched nerve when he takes a MRI Monday.

SACKERS ED: Bengals rookie left tackle Levi Jones couldn't have had a better first NFL start Sunday. For three quarters. Then it fell apart for an instant on three plays in the fourth quarter when the Colts threw him a change of pace with their own No. 1 pick, speedy Syracuse defensive end Dwight Freeney.

It was only three plays, but it was enough to result in two big losses that

blew up a drive that had reached the Colts 28 and took five minutes off the clock.

Jones had done a yeoman's job on the Colts' top sacker, Chad Bratzke all day, and had shut down the bull rush with basically no help from backs or tight ends. Then on a first-and-10 from the Bengals 37, Freeney blew right past Jones on a speed rush for Indy's only sack, a seven-yard loss.

Wide receiver Chad Johnson salvaged a first down with a leaping 17-yard catch on third-and-eight. T.J. Houshmandzadeh's 16-yard catch put the Bengals on the Colts 28, but on second-and-10 Freeney raced past Jones to break up a screen pass to Dillon that resulted in a six-yard loss. Then Jones false started and the Bengals were still two touchdowns down with 7:06 left in the game.

"That switchup got me," Jones said. "For 90 percent of the game, I'd been going against the power of Bratzke. Then they put in Freeney to rush up the field and I didn't adjust to the switch."

But Jones, as well as Kitna, were the big reasons the Bengals offered their best pass protection of the season despite never having the lead and being down by as much as 21-0 in the middle of the second quarter. Jones and Freeney went 10-11 in the first round back in April. Both clubs were questioned about reaching for needs, but overall, both redeemed their draft rooms Sunday.

"I've got to step it up," Jones said. "The intensity and the speed picked up late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter. They did a good job of resting Freeney and bringing him in in the clutch when they needed him."


SLANTS AND POSTS:** Peter Warrick's problems continue and they appeared to have nothing to do with contact lenses Sunday when he fumbled a punt at his 5-yard line to give the Colts a touchdown. Warrick said he saw the ball, but he took his eyes off it. He also admitted he

shouldn't have tried to catch it, since the rule is never to catch it inside the 10.

"When you've got the momentum and you're looking up, you don't feel yourself drifting back," Warrick said. "You just try to focus on what you're trying to do."

Warrick got benched on punts for the rest of the game in favor of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but head coach Dick LeBeau indicated that Warrick would return at some point and Warrick didn't bicker with the move like he did last year in Baltimore when he mishandled some punts in a 16-0 loss. . .

Looking for better coverage in the secondary, the Bengals gave sixth-round pick Marquand Manuel his first NFL start at strong safety in place of JoJuan Armour. But Manuel's biggest play came on special teams when Neil Rackers skied an on-side kick and Manuel recovered with 53 seconds left.

"Ron Dugans jumped up like he was trying to get a rebound," Manuel said. "He tipped it and I was playing off Doogs. He was high, so I was staying low."

Rackers didn't get a chance to try a field goal Sunday, but he earned his money with that popup that he learned from veteran kicker Richie Cunningham two training camps ago. .

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