Carter's drop lifts Jets

12-17-01, 3:55 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. _ Bengals safety Chris Carter says you can see it on the replay. Check the second play of the fourth quarter of the Bengals' 15-14 loss here Sunday.

Cincinnati led, 14-3. As they did most of the day, the Jets spread out the Bengals into their nickel package on second-and-10 and got third receiver Kevin Swayne on the field. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde tried to hit Swayne near the sidelines at the Bengals 25, but Carter cut in front of Swayne, caught the ball, and rushed the Bengals' fifth victory up the sideline, but. . .

"I had the opportunity to catch the

ball and I dropped it," Carter said. "I could have gone 50, 60 (yards). It would have been a deciding factor in the game. I didn't make my play."

But Swayne and the Jets made all their plays big plays on a day the Bengals could make no plays. The Jets had eight catches of 13 yards or more while the Bengals' defense had no sacks and forced no turnovers as the Jets picked off three Jon Kitna passes.

Big plays? None on offense, either, where the Bengals' leading receiver was running back Corey Dillon with 32 yards.

"Anything at the end by any of us would have got the victory," said head coach Dick LeBeau.

When you don't get anything at the end, that's how you lose your last three games by a total of eight points. On the next play after Carter's drop, Swayne got between Carter and cornerback Mark Roman for a 27-yard catch, one of Testaverde's six conversions of at least third-and-10. Three plays later, the Jets cut the lead to 14-9 on the way to their 12-0 fourth quarter.

"It's something that should have been done," Carter said of his would-be pick. "We shouldn't be having this conversation. We'd be having a different conversation and we should be happy in here right now. I feel like I let my teammates down and it's just something that should have happened and it didn't happen."

What did happen is that while the Bengals' talented wide receivers couldn't get loose, Swayne, a rookie free agent out of the XFL and Arena League, had a career day with four catches for 74 yards. He had come in with seven catches for 95 yards all year.

Asked if he ran with the ball before he had it, Carter said shook his head.

"I dropped it," he said.

The stats say it would happen. The Jets came in leading the NFL with a plus-20 turnover differential. The Bengals were at minus-4 and were one of only seven teams to have single-digit interceptions with nine.

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