BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals defensive end Vaughn Booker is apparently pondering his football future, but agent Richard Katz said Sunday night he thinks his client will return to practice this Wednesday.
The Bengals told Booker Sunday he has been medically cleared to play after a battery of tests spurred by his fainting episode three weeks ago failed to reveal any abnormalities.
Trainer Paul Sparling said the spell was apparently caused by a sudden reduction in blood pressure. While not dangerous, Sparling said it is , "unsettling."
Booker, the Taft High School product who signed a five-year, $11 million deal with his hometown team in February, didn't tell the team his plans Sunday night.
"I think he'll be back. He said today he felt like putting on the helmet," Katz said. "I think he's just stepping back and looking at all his options . That's understandable considering what he went through. Given the circumstances, you can see why he would want to take some time to think, but I think he'll be back."
Booker, 32, fainted on his way back to the huddle in the fourth quarter of the 13-0 loss in Jacksonville Sept. 17. He hasn't practiced, lifted weights, or done any running since while doctors have examined him .
DILLON's ANSWER:** You bet Bengals running back Corey Dillon hasn't forgotten. During his volatile contract negotiations earlier this year, the Bengals let it be known they thought Dillon was a good running back, but not a gamebreaker. A check of their '99 films showed he broke through the line of scrimmage 29 times with one defensive back to beat for a touchdown. And he never did it.
But on Sunday, Dillon did it for his longest run ever from scrimmage. During the 80-yard touchdown run, he not only beat the defensive back, but he stiff-armed cornerback Samari Rolle not once, but twice.
"So that ends that. That ends all that getting caught by the safety things," Dillon said. "So the big guy can run, so I guess that's a closed chapter in one of my little books and hopefully it won't come up again. Hopefully I'll keep outrunning the safeties."
By the way, that run showed exactly why the Bengals base their run game on Dillon running behind the tackle. Dillon said the nose tackle crossed his face, which means he overpursued, giving Dillon a cut-back alley to his left.
HEATH STEPS IN : Bengals nickel back Rodney Heath got promoted to the starting lineup in place of right cornerback Artrell Hawkins and the 175-pound battler held up well in the running game against the 240-pound bull known as Titans running back Eddie George.
Hawkins played well on special teams, where he had two tackles. But he got beat again on third down _ a reason he lost his job – when receiver Derrick Mason got inside him for a 19-yard touchdown catch.
Heath had three tackles, a pass defensed, and recovered George's fumble in the Bengals' end zone that was caused by free safety Darryl Williams late in the first quarter and preserved the Bengals' 3-0 lead.
Heath does nothing but produce and play hurt. He tripped up George on an open- field tackle with one arm and left the game with that arm hanging. X-Rays were negative and he came back to play with a bruised forearm.
"He's more solid than when I tackled him at Minnesota and he was playing for Ohio State," Heath said. "You can't (tackle him with one arm) because he'll tear your arm off. I didn't expect him to make a move because when he's going against a smaller guy, he usually tries to run you over. When he tried to make a move, I was just trying to get him down the best way I could."
Heath also sported a bandage over the bridge of his nose. When he recovered the fumble, his helmet came down over his face in the pile and drew blood.
RACKERS MISFIRES: After making his first three NFL field goals last week, Bengals rookie kicker Neil Rackers had another rough day Sunday. He had his second blocked field goal of the season (from 35 yards) and missed his fifth of eight tries late in the game when he hooked a 46-yarder left.
Head coach Dick LeBeau didn't sound like he was looking for a new kicker after the game. He thought the Bengals' protection broke down on the block. And he saw the Titans' kicker, Al DelGreco shank a 33-yarder. And DelGreco leads the NFL with an 85-percent conversion rate on his field-goal tries since 1995.
"(Rackers) hit it pretty good. I thought he made it," LeBeau said. "It had plenty of c arry. It was a long kick into the wind."
It was windy and cold, but Rackers said, "The snap was strong, the holds good. I just didn't connect. I kicked in the same types of elements in college (Illinois). I just kick the ball and don't think about what else happens."
Punter Daniel Pope had his worst day as a Bengal, getting off seven punts for just a 37.1-yard average with a long of 47 and three that didn't go longer than 35.
"I don't think the kicking game was the thing that decided this football game today, but we want to kick the ball better than we did," LeBeau said.
ANDERSON BLANKS KEARSE: Besides the play of free safety Darryl Williams (a 36-yard touchdown return for an interception and a caused fumble in the end zone), and the emergency play of Adrian Ross at middle linebacker , the Bengals' bright spot was the play of right tackle Willie Anderson against sack ace Jevon Kearse.
Anderson blanked Kearse, coming off a rookie-record 14.5 sacks last year, and held "The Freak," to one tackle. It may have helped that Anderson played him with a sore knee because it forced the 340-pound Anderson to get into a power game with the 270-pound Kearse.
"Everytime I would kick out on him, my knee would buckle," said Anderson of the move to push Kearse outside. "But I think guys make a mistake on him when they kick on him because he's so quick. So I jumped him, got into him before he could get started. We call that 'getting underneath him,' be powerful with him."
How quick is Kearse? Anderson told the referee before the game, "He's great now, but the reason he's great is he gets a lot of great jumps. So watch him."
The Bengals coaches had enough confidence in Anderson that they pretty much put him one-on-one with Kearse.
"They told me if I held him, (I would) get two paychecks," Anderson said. "(My) paycheck and the coaches'. . . Nah, I wouldn't take it. Only if we won. I'd rather have just a win."
Kearse called Anderson, "one of the best tackles I've been up against." But, "I did not get a sack, that's true, but if you turn on the tape, you'll see me beat him a good four or five times. But they did a good job of getting rid of the ball (and) dropping back in the pocket."
HALFTIME MENTALITY: ** While the Bengals were in the locker room at halftime trying to hang on to a 14-10 lead, here's what Kearse and the Titans were thinking: "Put them away. As far as our team against theirs, there's no way the game should have even been that close. Basically, we came out in the second half thinking just put them away and don't let them breathe at all."
ROSS GETS CALL: Ross, an outside backer by trade, discovered Sunday morning he would start at middle linebacker in place of rookie Armegis Spearman. Linebackers coach Mark Duffner figured it was time for Spearman to rest the nagging soreness in his shoulder against a physical team, or else it would never get any better. Spearman is probable for next week.
Ross had the hit of the game when he put running back Rodney Thomas on his back for one of his seven tackles in a solid effort.
Consider he didn't start practicing in the middle until two weeks ago.
"I came in a lot this week early in the morning just in case to go over film with Duff," Ross said. "This was a tough team to do it against because they have so many formations and they run double tight ends at you and fullbacks at you."
PICKENS VISITS: No one was surprised at the audacity of Bengals all-time leading receiver Carl Pickens when he walked into the Bengals' locker room two hours before game time to shake a few hands. It was his first visit since he signed with the Titans following his controversial release from Cincinnati.
Pickens, who always thought he was the master of mind games with friend and foe alike, tried to play some Sunday. He told the Bengals he was going to dress for the game, but it was pretty obvious at 11:15 a.m. that the Titans were not going to activate him with his sore hamstring.