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Defense pitches another gem

12-03-01, 4:35 a.m.


Bengals defensive tackle Oliver Gibson, who already had two sacks, took some offense.

It came on the Buccaneers' last offensive play in Sunday's overtime. Tampa Bay faced a third-and-three from the Bengals 30. Although he is struggling, that would have still given Pro Bowl kicker Martin Gramatica a relative chip shot of 47 yards for the winning field goal.

"We wanted to make a first down to get a little closer," said Bucs coach Tony Dungy. "It was difficult to kick a long field goal. It was going to be an iffy proposition with that turf, so we wanted to get a little closer."

So Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson dropped back to pass, and Bengals middle linebacker Brian Simmons' inside blitz dumped Johnson out of field-goal range on a five-yard loss.

"A lot of teams don't respect us and they're going to get their mouths ripped off if they don't," Gibson said. "We come to play. If they don't, so be it."

Not respect the Bengals' Top Ten defense? Try to come up with the last time this defense didn't allow a touchdown and lost. The last two times they did it, they won, 12-3, last year in Cleveland, and 27-9, six years ago in Pittsburgh.

Last year's statistical disaster is this year's bright spot:

_With six sacks, the Bengals now have 30, four more than last season.

_By stuffing the Bucs on 65 yards rushing, Cincinnati has held teams to under 100 yards rushing in four of the last five games and seven for the season after allowing 11 teams to rush for more than 100 last year.

_By stopping the Bucs nine times on 14 third-down tries, the Bengals stayed at their season-percentage of 36 percent on third down, miles better than the 42.7 percent of last year.

"What I'm most proud of this year," said defensive captain Takeo Spikes, "is we're not yelling at each other after they catch a pass. Even last year, we'd get on the (defensive backs), or the line would get on the backers, or whatever. Now it's kind of like we know and we're telling each other, 'We'll bend, but we won't break.'"

Yet the frustration is palpable after the offense barely broke its streak of 10 straight quarters without a touchdown with eight seconds left in regulation.

"It's not a secret man. We need more points to win. Point blank. Period," Spikes said. "We knew coming into the game (that we had to raise our level on defense). I think coming into the game the biggest thing was that we wanted to put our offense in a position where they could score easy (and) not put them in a position where they had to drive 80 or 90 yards down the field. We wanted to put them in good field position and create turnovers where it would be easy on them. I think we pretty much did that today defensively. (We were) so close, man. So close, so close. "

The Bengals had plenty of practice in bending but not breaking after Brad Johnson hit his first 14

passes, 18 of his first 21, and 26 of 33 for the game in finishing with 231 yards.

"I felt like our receivers took advantage of their DBs today and had a high completion percentage," Johnson said. " "The running game is key. We knew coming in here that it was going to be a tough day, like sledding uphill. They do a lot of eight-man guys in the box and make it tough to run against. We're not the first team they've handed it to. We felt like we were effective in the passing area, and the running game will get going."

But the Bengals didn't mind the dinking and dunking.

"If you tackle the ball, that stuff isn't going to hurt you in the long run," Simmons said.

What did hurt was rookie cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn's pass interference penalty on Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson on Tampa Bay's first drive of the game. Kaesviharn, the Arena league and XFL product playing his second NFL game from scrimmage, lost his battle with the Pro Bowler and overall No. 1 pick on a deep route and negated safety Chris Carter's interception that would have put the ball on the Bucs 17. And it took Tampa Bay off a third-and-27 hook.

"Penalties happen," Simmons said. "He was out there fighting and competing and doing what the coaches asked him."

The pass rush continues to help a depleted secondary.

Bengals' No. 1 pick Justin Smith logged his first multi-sack game with two and although he didn't get them in pure one-on one matchups with Bucs left tackle Kenyatta Walker, the sacks won the war with the player the Bengals would have taken with the fourth pick if it wasn't Smith.

Smith now has 4.5 sacks, and Gibson and fellow end Reinard Wilson have four each after Wilson's sack Sunday. That ties them with Spikes. They trail team-leader Simmons' 5.5, but not since 1986 and Ross Browner, Eddie Edwards and Emmanuel King have the Bengals had three players with at least 6.5 sacks.

"When the front four is playing like that," Simmons said, "you can do a lot of things."

Even when the team's top three cornerbacks (Artrell Hawkins. Rodney Heath and Tom Carter) have missed the last two games and will probably miss the next one because Hawkins is doubtful and Heath and Carter are on injured reserve.

I think now we're truly trying to separate ourselves from a lot of these defenses," Spikes said. "I think we know we've got a chance to be great."

Simmons downplayed the struggles of the offense.

"The offense isn't struggling, the team is struggling," he said. "I don't see them giving us any half wins."

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