BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals got some better news on the injury front today. Middle linebacker Brian Simmons (knee) could be back for the last seven games of the season and tight end Tony McGee has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable for Sunday's game in Jacksonville.
After team doctor Rob Heidt Jr., re-attached the outer cartilage back to the bone in Simmons' right knee today during surgery at HealthSouth Surgery Center in Montgomery, Ohio, Bengals trainer Paul Sparling said the earliest Simmons could return is eight weeks instead of the original diagnosis of 10 to 12.
Simmons begins his rehab Wednesday, but Sparling is cautious about an eight-week return. The news is hopeful enough that the Bengals won't give up Simmons' roster spot for the season just yet on injured reserve and they aren't seeking a replacement outside the club. When practice starts up again Wednesday, the leading candidate to fill Simmons' spot is free-agent rookie Armegis Spearman.
McGee's team-high streak of 104 straight starts looks better today. His sprained right foot and bruised big left toe responded to today's treatment and he wasn't limping as much.
McGee, who has started 112 of a possible 113 games since his rookie season of 1993, has never said much about his streak or injuries for fear of a jinx. He has only allowed, "I just want to win. I don't care about streaks."
McGee hasn't missed a game since his rookie year, when he sat out a 38-3 loss to Houston with a back bruise. Ironically, the player with the longest active streak of 199 straight starts, Titans offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, played that game for the Oilers.
BENGALS ADD LINEBACKER:** With the injury to Simmons, the club got some linebacker insurance today when it signed former Patriot Marc Megna to the practice squad and released receiver/cornerback Sirr Parker. The 6-2, 245-pound Megna, released by the Patriots Aug. 27, was on New England's practice squad last season. He was the Jets' sixth-round pick in '99 out of Richmond, where he was a Division I-AA All-American. He's coming off a summer he started 10 games for Barcelona in NFL Europe.
"He plays like his hair is on fire," said Bengals linebackers coach Mark Duffner. "He's a real intense guy, a real physical guy who is an inside, middle linebacker all the way."
BROWN, COSLET WON'T PANIC: Bengals President Mike Brown and coach Bruce Coslet know Sunday's 24-7 loss to the Browns in the first game ever at Paul Brown Stadium was ugly in the face of a schedule that pits Cincinnati against three 1999 playoff teams in the next month.
But Brown thinks his team can do better and knows they better. And he made it clear that filling the stadium is important, but he won't make football decisions off one game.
"I know we can do better than what we saw yesterday," Brown said today. "We can play a lot better. We have to. We have a very scary schedule in front of us. We're going to be playing a battery of playoff teams, one after another, and we'll have to be at our best to stay in the fight with them.
"We need to fill the stadium," Brown said. "We all know that here. That doesn't mean we're going to start talking about what we have to do differently because we layed an egg in one game."
Brown said he thought his team was prepared and that it tried to execute the right plays, " but they beat us. I think we were too charged up. That can happen. When you get a smack in the nose like we did, you go back to work."
Which is what Coslet did today. When he met the team, he called out some individuals he feels need to step up their play. He then met the media and refuted notions his team wasn't conditioned well enough.
Coslet also had some advice to his club on how to prepare for the wounded Jaguars in Jacksonville this week.
"Recover quickly, because they're not going to be in the best of moods," said Coslet of a Jacksonville team that lost a big lead to Baltimore Sunday. "They've got the best quarterback in our division and that's saying a lot because (Titans' Steve) McNair is pretty good, too. (Jaguars' quarterback Mark) Brunell is special. Is it panic mode time? No. What happened last week doesn't count. If we start worrying about who we play next week, does that help us now? No, we've got to take it one game at a time - that's part of being a professional. Approach the task at hand and do it and execute it properly and then go onto the next task. Learn from the past but don't dwell on it, fix as many mistakes as we possibly can and get ready (for) this week."
JONES FELT HEAT: Remember when former Bengals left tackle Kevin Sargent admitted his big, new contract was a factor in his struggles during the 1998 season? Rod Jones, his replacement, can relate. In his first game since signing a three-year, $9 million deal, Jones was benched in the second quarter Sunday.
"I was too hyped up. I wanted to do everyhing," Jones said. "I wanted to win the first game in the stadium. I wanted to prove I deserved the money. I wanted to block my man. And I just got too jacked up. That happens to me sometimes and I've got to get back to where I was last year. I let the game come to me instead of trying to do everything."
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander said today Jones gets the start next Sunday against Jaguars Pro Bowler Tony Brackens. Jones played well against Brackens last year in the one game he played him, and right tackle Willie Anderson has confidence in him.
"Rod's a solid player who does well against the big players," Anderson said. "He'll respond in this one. Remember, they didn't give him the contract until he could prove he could block Brackens and (Baltimore's) Michael McCrary."
With Brackens and McCrary and their 85 some odd NFL career sacks coming up back to back in the next two weeks in loud stadiums on the road, Jones knows he'll have to earn his money.
ICKEY REDUX: Even the kids were into the nostalgia Sunday. Yes, that was rookie receiver Ron Dugans doing the "Ickey Shuffle," after he scored the Bengals only touchdown. That's the dance Bengals running back Ickey Woods made famous duirng the '88 Super Bowl run, and Dugans worked at it. He even went to the video room before the game to make sure he had it down pat.
"I remember when he did it, and I saw it again right before the game," Dugans said. "They were winning back then and things were going pretty good and we wanted the crowd to get into it like we get into it when we score a touchdown."
THIS AND THAT: Charley Casserly, general manager of the new Houston franchise, toured the Bengals' practice facility today. Casserly, architect of the Redskins' perennial playoff teams in the '80s and '90s, first wants to build a first class practice venue and is touring every new one in the league. He tipped his hat to Cincinnati: "The wet area in the training room with the hydrotherapy is the best in the league. I love the locker room because it's open. It's a great room for a head coach because he just has to turn to the side to see everyone."
When Houston begins play in the AFC in 2002, Casserly hopes it's with the Bengals, Browns and Steelers in the AFC Central.
Mike Brown would prefer Indianapolis or Tennessee joining Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh when the divisions go to four teams. But he sees Casserly's point. The old Houston Oilers have those AFC Central ties that Sam Wyche and Jerry Granville can tell you all about.
"Not only do you have the Houston-Cincinnati rivalry (in the '80s and '90s), but look at how great it was with Pittsburgh," said Casserly of the '70s. "Cleveland was a part of all that and that still has a deep connection with our fans. They remember. Indianapolis or Jacksonville doesn't have the same meaning." . . .
Former Bengals kicker Doug Pelfrey worked out for the Chiefs today in Kansas City.