10-6-03, 6:35 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. _ That defensive line Marvin Lewis re-tooled during the offseason came up big for a second straight week here Sunday. After shutting down the Browns' running game last week, it pretty much held Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe in check with four sacks by players they signed as free-agents this year, matching the number of sacks they had in their first four games.
Tackle John Thornton got his first sack as a Bengal and left end Duane Clemons became the first Bengal to get three in a game since Dec. 9, 2001, when rookie Justin Smith got three of the Bengals' record eight against the Jaguars.
Clemons now leads the club with four, doubling what he had all last season in Kansas City. Because of Bledsoe's lack of mobility and the urgency of the last 10 minutes, the Bengals blitzed probably more than they have this past season, but they also used heavily a four-man rush that has become their trademark this season.
One of the sacks came against the Bills' prized first round pick from last season, right tackle Mike Williams.
"I got another one against a tight end and one was on a game with Justin Smith," Clemons said. "We crossed and the guard stayed with Justin and nobody stuck with me."
Clemons, 29, has been here before, which is why Lewis signed him. When he signed back on May 14, he immediately became the Bengals' career sack leader with 35, and that features four years with at least seven and a career-high of nine for Minnesota in 1999.
Back-to-back sacks by Thornton and Clemons midway through the fourth quarter led to the Bengals' go-ahead field goal when they pushed Buffalo back to its four-yard line and produced the punt Peter Warrick returned 30 yards to the Bills 20.
"The defensive line is gelling, it's improving each week," Clemons said. "Any time you're starting to put the together, you start feeling you're going to have a great day and you don't feel like anything can go wrong. But at the end of the day when you lose, that's extremely disappointing."
Until the end of the game, Bengals middle linebacker Kevin Hardy, who had at least one quarterback pressure, said the front four was getting so much pressure that they put everyone else back in coverage much of the time.
"We're going to get better each week, because that's what we've been doing," Clemons said.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: It rained for much of the day at Ralph Wilson Stadium Sunday after a sunny first quarter. Winds gusted to as much as 22 miles per hour, and the Bengals might want to cross AstroPlay off their list of potential field replacements after a day of slipping and sliding.
Quarterback Jon Kitna didn't blame his worst passing day of the season on the wind, and said it had more impact on the kicking game. All four of kicker Shayne Graham's attempts (three were good) came with the wind, but punter Nick Harris wasn't as lucky. Only one of his punts had the wind on the way to a 31.8-yard net average, and he had to punt in overtime into its teeth and could only get a 29-yarder that put the Bills at their own 45.
"My best one of the day went something like only 32 yards and it was a perfect spiral," Harris said. "The main thing is, you can't try to kill it kicking into the wind."
Bills head coach Gregg Williams thought about taking the wind and not the ball, but that didn't appear to be an option for Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis when the Bengals won the overtime toss and took the ball. Brandon Bennett bobbling the ball in the end zone on the OT kickoff and having to down it didn't help, either.
"We were excited," Kitna said. "We were getting the ball first. It's kind of like a Catch 22. Unless you do something with the football, you're going to be punting into the teeth of the wind and giving them field position. We just didn't get it done. We needed to get the ball past the 50-yard line, which would have changed field position at least.". . .
The Bengals had a scare when cornerback Jeff Burris got carried into an ambulance strapped into a board late in the third quarter. He tried to tackle fullback Sam Gash with the front of his helmet and jammed his neck. The next thing he knew, he was giving a thumbs-up to his teammates, and the next thing he knew after that, he was getting an X-Ray in the locker room.
"I was unconscious for a little bit, but the X-rays were fine and I'm ready to play," Burris said. "I was scared because you never want to play with a neck."
Cornerback Artrell Hawkins was relieved to see Burris showered and dressed in the locker room after the game because the last time he saw him, "He was bent up and his eyes were rolled up in the back of his head." . . .
SPIKES GETS WIN:** Bills linebacker Takeo Spikes got that win over his old mates, and got a little nostalgic about it.
"It felt real funny. It was weird," Spikes said. "From day one, coming in as a rookie, the guys that you see are like your brothers. You go out and work hard and sweat and then the adversity that we were going through during my five years there. There is a special bond between all of us, between every last one of us. It was weird feeling like I wanted to take their heads off; it's just part of the game."
But take all that away and it was a big game for Spikes' defense after giving up the ghost the week before when Philadelphia got 177 yards rushing.
"It was frustrating," Spikes said of Sunday's victory. "Our offense would get something going, and we'd get off the field. Defensively we get a three-and-out and then the next two series we allow them to get two first downs and kick a field goal. It was very frustrating. We felt like we could have ended the game a lot earlier and not put so much stress on everyone."
Still, the Bengals were playing well enough that Spikes wanted the Bills to win the overtime toss.
"We wanted Drew and them to go first," Spikes said. "We felt they were hot. They had the momentum going into overtime. But at the same time, deep down inside, I felt like we wanted to go out and force a turnover."