Can Bengals finish big?

BY GEOFF HOBSON

With their first back-to-back October wins in 11 years, the 2-6 Bengals hope to make a run in the friendly confines of November and December against teams who are a combined 32-35.

"If we can get the passing game going, we've got an opportunity to finish .500 or better," says quarterback Akili Smith. "We're going to be playing some teams who are struggling, but we've got to get the passing game going to do it and that's my responsibility. If I can get it going, we'll be too balanced for defenses with the way we're running the ball. We've got a shot for at least .500 or better, which I talked about at the beginning of the year."

But looking ahead flies in the face of coach Dick LeBeau's rebuilding philosophy that began in the hours after the 37-0 loss to Baltimore six weeks ago:

One snap at a time.

"His whole thing is, he never talks about other teams," said tight end Tony McGee of LeBeau. "We worry about what we do. It's a different philosophy.. . more

"I guess that's true," McGee said. "If you take care of yourself, you put yourself in position to be successful."

McGee says it's pretty obvious what the Bengals have to keep doing no matter who they play. Control the ball and don't make huge mistakes on defense or special teams.

"He wants to keep it a one or two play game going into the fourth quarter," McGee said. "If we do that, you've got to figure everything that could go wrong for us in the past is eventually going to start going our way. The fates are going to help us a little bit. We won't get all the bad bounces."

McGee should know. He's missed just one game since he came into the league in 1993. In that stretch, the Bengals are 10-57 in September and October, 26-30 in November and December.

MATCHUPS: Bengals ILB Takeo Spikes is finally healthy in taking on Ravens RB Jamal Lewis. At his new position, Bengals DE Michael Bankston not only takes on Pro Bowl Ravens LT Jonathan Ogden, but he has to make sure backup Ravens QB Tony Banks doesn't get outside contain if he gets in the game. With the Ravens' defensive middle virtually a wall, Bengals WR Peter Warrick has to make it happen on the perimeter against Ravens CB Duane Starks. Still, Bengals RB Corey Dillon will try to pound against Ravens MLB Ray Lewis. . . more **

SPIKES VS. JAMAL LEWIS:** Don't be fooled by the fact the Ravens haven't scored a touchdown in six weeks. They rushed for 135 yards against the Steelers' No. 3 rush defense last week and Lewis got 93 of them, as well as 53 yards receiving.

Lewis gouged the Bengals for 116 yards on 25 carries back in September, when Spikes was nursing a high thigh injury. He's better now and has been all over the place lately. His pace for 118 solo tackles would break the team solo record set by linebacker Reggie Williams in 1977.

BANKSTON VS. OGDEN, BANKS: The Ravens love to run behind the 6-8, 340-pound Ogden: "You have to get your hands inside," said the 6-5, 285-pound Bankston. "He doesn't come off the ball real hard, but he doesn't have to because he's so big he just tries to maul you. The key is to get your hands inside."

Quarterback Trent Dilfer is supposed to start again, but he fumbled and threw an interception in Steeler territory last week. It's hard to believe the Ravens won't turn to Tony Banks at some point. He's 3-0 in starts against the Bengals with five touchdown passes and two interceptions.

WARRICK VS. STARKS: You won't pound the ball against the Ravens all day. In the last two games, the NFL's No. 1 defense has allowed one drive longer than 44 yards and none of 60 or longer. The Bengals need a big play from their big play guy.

DILLON VS. RAY LEWIS: Dillon, the leader of the NFL's best rushing team, goes against Lewis, the leader of the NFL's top overall defense and best against the run. The Ravens have had the upper hand. In Dillon's six starts against them, he averages 53.5 yards per game, 3.2 yards per rush and has scored no touchdowns against Baltimore.

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BY THE NUMBERS: ** All the numbers you need for this weekend. Which include some contract watching with 5.2 and 3.9. The first number is Dillon's yards per carry. The second is Eddie George's yards per carry. . .more.

12-64 _ Bengals record in September and October since 1991.

32-41 _ Bengals record in November and December since 1991.

32-35 _ Record of Cincinnati foes in last eight games of season.

34-34 – Record of Cincinnati foes in first eight games of season.

738 – Yards gained by Dillon on 142 carries.

739 _ Yards gained by Titans running back Eddie George on 188 carries.

0 – Touchdowns scored by the Ravens since Sept. 24.

0 _ Touchdown passes by the Bengals since Oct. 1.

0 _ Points Bengals have scored against the Ravens in the last eight quarters.

160 _ Points Bengals are on pace to score this season, lowest in the NFL since 140 by Seattle in 1992.

24 _ Points Bengals have allowed in last two games. Lowest in back-to-back games since giving up 10 in 7-2 loss in New England and 15-3 victory over Rams Dec. 12-19, 1993.

4.7 _ Dillon's career yards per rush.

3.2 _ Dillon's per rush on 99 carries against the Ravens.

FRIDAY INACTIVES: Bengals: MLB Brian Simmons, LT John Jackson, CB Mark Roman, S/LB JoJuan Armour; Ravens: WR Travis Taylor, T Sammy Williams, LB O.J. Brigance, DE Adalius Thomas.

Bengals DT Tom Barndt (shoulder) will most likely play, but won't start. FB Clif Groce (knee) is a game-time decision. Nick Williams gets the call if he's not ready.

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WEATHER CALL:** The gurus at Channel 12 WKRC-TV are calling for mostly sunny skies with a high of 59 degrees.

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