Gibson out for season

11-11-02, 5:30 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals haven't been able to stop the run with their anchor in the middle of the line. Now what do they do with defensive tackle Oliver Gibson lost for the year with a torn Achilles' tendon?

The Bengals also lost backup cornerback Bo Jennings for the year with a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament and expect both players to miss next season's spring minicamps.

Gibson, who has started and played in a team-high 57 straight games since signing as a free agent before the 1999 season, hasn't even missed a practice in his eight NFL seasons.

"Kind of like Tim Krumrie," said Gibson of his defensive line coach who never missed a game despite a severe broken leg in the Super Bowl. "But stuff happens."

This stuff happened late in the third quarter, when Gibson thought he got kicked in the leg, "one of the telltale signs when you tear something like that." When the trainers came out on the field and cut off his sock, he knew it was bad because, "you could see an indentation of where my Achilles' was supposed to be and there was a hole."

When Gibson left, Ravens

running back Jamal Lewis found plenty of holes in the middle as he racked up 59 yards on his last eight carries on his way to 135 yards on 21 carries.

Gibson, who turns 31 in March, faces a long rehab for one of an athlete's most dreaded injuries. Trainer Paul Sparling said it shouldn't be career threatening, but they don't expect him to be ready until the first day of training camp and he has some advice for the 310-pounder.

"It shouldn't be career threatening," Sparling said. "If he comes back any day before the start of training camp, that's a gift. The key thing for him is to maintain conditioning. Historically in the offseason he does tend to gain a few extra pounds. He's going to have to dedicate himself to being very diligent in making sure that it doesn't become an issue."

The Bengals have watched Gibson go down often in games for the last four seasons and get up every time. Even earlier in this game, he left with a banged-up knee, but returned for the second half.

"I thought I was going to get up this time, but I couldn't push off on my toe," Gibson said. "I was extended on a block. . .I don't know if someone stepped on it. It felt like someone kicked me."

That now means Glen Steele moves into the starting lineup, but what are they going to do for tackle depth? They could turn to Mario Monds, but he just started practicing this week after rehabbing a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament.

Even with Gibson in there, the Bengals haven't been stout against the run this season. They came into the league 29th in rush defense, giving up 134 yards per game and they gave up 162 yards to the Ravens.

Sparling said he also doesn't expect Jennings back until the first day of training camp, but he got a break when only his ACL was damaged and no other knee ligament.

Other injuries Sunday: WR Ron Dugans (quad bruise) is probable, as is center Rich Braham (ankle sprain), and FS Cory Hall (shoulder). DB Mark Roman, inactive with a knee sprain, is probable. DE Vaughn Booker, who didn't make the trip, is questionable next week for the Browns with his lingering MCL knee sprain.

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NO HAPPY RETURNS:** The Bengals were on the short end of a wild game with a combined 547 return yards. The good news is that Brandon Bennett put them on the scoreboard with a 94-yard kick return for a touchdown the first time they touched the ball, ending their skein of 13 straight quarters without a score in Ravens Stadium.

The bad news is he got five more chances and ended up parlaying the Ravens' short kickoffs into a team record 228 yards, breaking Tremain Mack's record set four years and nine days ago against the Broncos with 212.

Plus, the Bengals got stung by rookie Lamont Brightful, who had just started returning kicks in his NFL debut back on Oct. 13. He had only returned one punt before Sunday, but had to do it with Chris McAlister (ankle) on the shelf. Brightful, who was drafted in the sixth round for his return abilities, set a NCAA record at Eastern Washington with career average of 30 yards. But he broke this

game open with a 95-yard punt return with 1:23 left in the half when he found an alley up the Ravens' sideline for the longest punt return ever against the Bengals.

Earlier in the day, he had ripped off a 54-yarder on a kick return to set up a field goal that broke a 17-14 tie.

Bengals wide receiver Ron Dugans, the club's top special teams player who came into the game tied with Bennett for the team lead with nine tackles on teams, got double-covered on the punt as the contain man and got walled off. He thought he was held on the play, but said, "It's not an excuse. You still have to make the play."

Players didn't seem to think punter Nick Harris outkicked his coverage with the booming 56-yarder. Fullback Lorenzo Neal, who plays inside Dugans, took part of the blame.

"Dugs makes plays week in and week out. Other guys have to make plays and that was my turn to make a play," Neal said. "Yeah, they had a guy on me, but one guy shouldn't block me."

Even though he was standing inside his 10, Brightful said he knew he had a chance for a good return. It turned out to be the first punt return for a touchdown against the Bengals since the Rams' Az Hakim went 84 yards on Oct. 3, 1999 at Cinergy Field.

"I saw the guys double-team on the outside guy, and I saw Ed Reed coming back for [the block]," Brightful said of Dugans. "I just made the decision to cut it in from the angle...and took it from there. You always do a lot better when you get in the open field because you've got a little more room to work with."

Bennett had plenty of room quickly when he bolted up the middle on a slow developing play that resulted in the Bengals' first kick return for a TD since Mack went all the way against the Titans nearly three years to the day. The short kick stopped dead at the 6 and Bennett had to pick it up before making one quick move up the middle between blocks by Neal and Riall Johnson, and he was gone.

"By that time, they don't know how or where I'm going to go," Bennett said. "They don't know if I'm going to abort the return, or just run, or whatever. I'm just glad our guys held their blocks so long. I just run. I don't really look at where guys are, I'm just going as fast as I can.

"All I had to do was run because I didn't have to break any tackles or anything," Bennett said. "It was one of those things where it was just a well blocked play. The guys were just telling me to just run and they were going to get their man and just want me to run and believe in them and believe in the return and things would happen good for us and they did."

But Bennett wasn't pleased with how this loss came down, given that his special teams allowed two big plays that produced 10 points.

"A lot of things that happened today are things we can control," Bennett said. "We have to eliminate that. . .Those are the things that's been killing us."

FLUKE STUFF? Talk about a game of fluke plays.

Fluke Play One: The Bengals were driving for at least a field goal with 22 seconds left in the first half and facing a second-and-one from the Ravens 8 and trailing, 24-14. Instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock, the Bengals hurried to the line and gave the ball to running back Corey Dillon for the first down. But he got stuffed for a loss of a yard, and then fumbled the ball when he landed on

one of his lineman's feet, and the Ravens recovered.

That's what quarterback Jon Kitna saw.

"His knee couldn't have been any closer to being down," Kitna said. "Then he hits the offensive lineman's foot and the ball comes out. It's one of those things that seems to happen to us."

Some questioned why the Bengals didn't spike it, but Kitna said that would have made it third-and-one and they would have had just one play to get into the end zone before they would have had to go for a field goal if they didn't make it.

Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau said the Bengals sent two plays into the huddle on the previous snap, so there was no confusion because everyone knew the play and that they had to hurry to the line. At that point, he said, they knew they had enough time to get the field-goal team on the field.

Fluke Play Two: In the first quarter, Ravens rookie free safety Ed Reed made all the NFL Films blooper tapes. After picking off Kitna at the Ravens 46, Reed ran through the Bengals and had a certain touchdown until he stuck the ball out in celebration at the 8-yard line.

Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh came up from behind to knock the ball away and when it rolled through the arms of Ravens defensive backs Gary Baxter and James Trapp in the end zone, Bengals wide receiver Peter Warrick wrenched it away for a touchback instead of a touchdown.

"I heard Pete shouting from underneath the pile, 'T.J., I got it, I got it.' so I just ran out of there knowing we had it," Houshmandzadeh said. "When I saw (Reed's) hand go up, that got me thinking. 'Let me try to hit this thing out of there.' I had to jump over a couple of guys, then I saw the ball out there and I had to get it."

Reed couldn't believe the whole thing.

"I was like a kid in a candy story with no money," Reed said. "You want the candy but you just can't get it. The ball went up and I looked back but not all the way. The guy just came up behind me, but you know, I have to be smarter."

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