Heat's on Rackers

GEOFF HOBSON

JACKSONVILLE _ The Bengals aren't happy with rookie kicker Neil Rackers after he missed two more field-goal attempts here, but the club indicated Sunday night it isn't ready to replace him yet.

Doug Pelfrey, the man Rackers replaced? He's got at least one workout early this week with another NFL team.

Coach Bruce Coslet and quarterback Akili Smith didn't let the misses from 44 and 47 yards in the first half slip by.

"We have to make our field goals," Smith said. "We go into halftime down 10-6 and it's a different game."

Coslet said, "It obviously changes my playcalling and (defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau's playcalling. We've got to get it straightened out."

Rackers, a sixth-round pick, is still looking for his first NFL field goal after getting a low 42-yarder blocked against Cleveland last week. He says he hit the ball better Sunday, but he seems as mystified as anyone. The 44-yarder slid to the left, and the 47-yarder hit the left upright.

"Yeah, it kind of jumped out in front of me," said Rackers of the upright. "I was very relaxed today. I just went out relaxed and stroked it. . .It's just not going down the middle."

Rackers said he won't start second-guessing what he's doing because, "that's the worst thing you can do. . .Keep working at it and it will work itself out."

STRUGGLING LINE: Nobody on the offensive line distinguished themselves Sunday, but defensive tackle Gary Walker was more than high-profile in punishing the interior of the line with two sacks and five tackles. The all-out blitz confounded the line, particularly from the linebacker spot, where Hardy Nickerson had a sack. Defensive end Tony Brackens also rung up his third sack of the season.

And how bottled up was the running game? Of Dillon's 17 carries for 32 yards, 12 of his carries were for two yards or less. His longest run was five yards until he ran a 12-yarder with 1:22 left in the game.

"I don't know what's wrong with the running game," Smith said. "I'm not pointing fingers. I'm as guilty as anybody else. We have got to find a way to get that guy going."

Dillon, who came into the season with a 4.6-yard per carry average, has 73 yards on 29 carries, which is a 2.5 average.

CHALK TALK: Smith now has one touchdown pass and four interceptions. He had two picked off Sunday, the last one setting up the Jags' final score when cornerback Aaron Beasley went 39 yards after he stepped in front of receiver Damon Griffin on an out route.

"I saw Beasley, but I threw it too far inside. It was a long throw and I didn't get it outside enough," Smith said.

Smith never saw Nickerson when the backer dropped into coverage and intercepted a crossing pattern to receiver Ron Dugans. Smith said he was following Dugans coming across the field and when he threw it, he saw Nickerson appear in front of Dugans.

THIS AND THAT: Dugans and fellow rookie receiver Peter Warrick had a rough trip back home to Florida. Warrick had five catches for 75 yards, including another spectacular one-handed grab. But he also dropped three more balls after dropping three last week, and was the victim of a late hit over the middle. Dugans had just two catches for 18 yards. . .

Since 1996, the Bengals are 5-27 in September and October. . .Defensive end Vaughn Booker passed out on the field late in the game and stayed overnight here for observation and more tests after a CAT scan was negative. . .Linebacker Takeo Spikes honored injured middle linebacker Brian Simmons on his wrist bands. He drew a cross and wrote Simmons' No. 56 next to it.

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