Defensive lineman Jon Fanene is coming off his best game since he had two sacks, five tackles and recovered a fumble against San Francisco back on Sept. 25. After wrecking the Cardinals last week with two sacks and a quarterback pressure that blew up a huge two-point conversion try, Fanene goes into Sunday's regular-season finale at Paul Brown Stadium against the Ravens (4:15 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) with a career-high-tying six sacks.
A versatile, athletic sort that can play both end and tackle, Fanene did his damage all three times from inside. After his first sack, he noticed the Cardinals offensive line sliding to him and he got the second sack by beating a double team. But the penetration into the pocket on the two-point conversion came against a one-on-one.
"My quickness and hands," Fanene said of the edge gets when he goes to tackle. "Every time I play the two technique, they left open the A gap and I take advantage. But then they watch film on me and adjust and I have to adjust."
Which means Fanene is as versatile as they come. A bigger man than the 6-4, 285-pound Fanene usually plays the 2 technique, which is head up on a guard. Fanene can also play the 3 technique, which is the Geno Atkins tackle position usually shaded away from the ball and designed for penetrators. Plus, he can play the 5 technique, or end, against the run. The two sacks came right down Fanene's alley inside at tackle on second-and-eight and third-and-five in the passing downs package.
"He's our specialist in there," said Atkins, the starter who isn't exactly huge either at 6-1, 300 but leads all NFL defensive tackles with eight sacks. "He can play anywhere along the line. We're not (big), but what matters is playing (with leverage) and having a motor."
Fanene said one of the keys for the line play Saturday was the presence of Carlos Dunlap, the left end who is the team's best pass rusher. Dunlap sat out Thursday's practice with the hamstring issue that has dogged him since he capped off the Nov. 6 Tennessee win with A sack. But indications are he's resting it for Sunday after he looked better than he had in a while with a sack and three pressures last Saturday.
"I had a good week of preparation and coach (Mike) Zimmer did a great job of breaking down (the offense) and getting guys to make plays," Fanene said. "The defensive line, everyone is healthy, Carlos is healthy."
Atkins and Fanene are leading a pass rush that has rung up 13 sacks in the last three games and is four shy of the club record of 48 set in 2001. Their total of 44 puts the Bengals third, the highest they've ever been ranked in sacks. Although the Ravens have been beat up on the offensive line this year and Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda is hurting this week, Baltimore is ranked 13th in allowing sacks per pass.
NUGENT WON'T CHANGE: Mike Nugent lost his league-lead in field-goal percentage last Saturday with his two misses in the first half, but not the mechanics that gave him a first alternate berth in the Pro Bowl behind Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski.
"I'm not really changing. In the grand scheme of things, that's just two balls," Nugent said after Thursday's practice. "I had a great warmup. I had a great week."
He said he was too fast to the ball on the first miss, a 35-yarder that went wide right, and he said he didn't play the wind correctly on the 48-yarder that went wide right.
"I was surprised to see it move in the air because it started out nice and straight," he said. "I need to play the wind better. On the first one, I just rushed it and everything was a little off."
Those were just Nugent's third and fourth misses of the season and he came back to hit a big 41-yarder at the end of the half and a 32-yarder for Cincinnati's only points of the second half in a 23-16 win.
"The funny thing is that you have to realize it's not automatic every time," Nugent said. "It's one of those things you really have to hone in on every kick because it's just not going to happen."
Nugent, 29 and in his seventh season, was actually pleased to get the call that he was the runnerup to Janikowski.
"I just wanted to be part of the argument," Nugent said. "It's tough to argue against the season Sebastian has had. I'm really happy to see the way he's hitting the ball and how he tied the record. He's been huge over 50. I was ecstatic to get that phone call. I was just excited because it's something that was voted on. I think that speaks a lot of for what you've done against other teams."
Janikowski tied Tom Dempsey's record for the longest field goal of 63 yards earlier in the season and has six 50-yarders. Nugent's long this season is 49, but it won't matter Sunday when he could be facing the only Bengals kicker to make a Pro Bowl, Shayne Graham. Graham is only a replacement if Billy Cundiff (calf) can't go for the Ravens and you can expect a sold-out round of boos if that happens. The last time Graham kicked in PBS, he missed two field goals in the Wild Card loss to the Jets two years ago.
But Nugent will always be grateful to Graham. It was Graham who called him last season the day after Nugent suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in the knee of his non-kicking leg.
ANOTHER POTENTIAL FIRST: Andy Dalton is already the first rookie quarterback in history to throw for 20 touchdowns and start nine wins. A.J. Green is already the only rookie receiver in history to catch 10 balls in a game from a rookie quarterback. With Green already in the Pro Bowl they can make more history if Dalton ends up going as expected as the first alternate. It would be the first time since the 1970 merger that a rookie QB-WR combo from the same team would make the Pro Bowl.
RADIO GIG: Leave it to an NFL agent to book Bengals president Mike Brown for a rare interview Friday. Even rarer still, on Internet radio.
Jim Gould, the Cincinnati-based agent who represents Bengals defensive lineman Frostee Rucker and right tackle Andre Smith, has Brown on his weekly show "A Current Life with Jimmy Gould," that can be heard on the VoiceAmerica.com Variety Channel from 3-4 p.m.
Now you know what Brown, Bob Costas, Marlo Thomas and General Hugh Shelton have in common. All have been or will be guests of Gould.
"Mike and I have always had the kind for relationship where we can look each other in the eye and trust one another," Gould said. "It's just always been that way."
He has known Brown and his family for nearly 30 years, starting when Gould got involved in the USFL. Gould ended up coaching Brown's granddaughters in youth soccer and represented first-rounders Peter Warrick and later Andre Smith, as well as Dan Wilkinson when Brown traded Wilkinson to the Redskins in 1998 for first- and third-round draft picks.
Gould didn't have time to open up the phones for questions with Costas and doesn't think he will with Brown. He's broken it up into four segments and begins with growing up in Cleveland and then playing quarterback at Dartmouth before moving on to his years with the Bengals.
CUNDIFF IFFY:The Ravens are expected to make a call on klcker Billy Cundiff on Friday and it may be good news for Shayne Graham. Cundiff (calf) was limited Thursday and not only has had a shaky December, but all nine of his missed field goals have come on the road.