BY GEOFF HOBSON
JACKSONVILLE _ The Bengals' defense delivered a 241-yard upset special here today at ALLTEL Stadium, but their offense and special teams were only upset after Jacksonville posted its first shutout in its six-year existence, 13-0.
Defensive captain Takeo Spikes called it the best defensive stand by the Bengals in his three seasons, but in the same breath he fumed, "A lot of guys are mad. Mad. They're just sick of it being the same thing. Losing."
The Bengals are 0-2 for the third straight season and staring at a game in Baltimore next Sunday against a team that came into today unbeaten.
"Defensively we played all right," said cornerback Artrell Hawkins after he helped hold NFL reception leader Jimmy Smith to 41 yards on six catches. "But we have to get some victories. So you hold a team like that to 13 points and you're happy. But you have to win. Moral victories don't mean anything in this profession."
A week after Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell lost a 39-36 shootout in Baltimore, the Bengals made life miserable for one of the AFC's top guns. They intercepted him for the first time since 1997, sacked him four times, held him to two field goals on five forays inside the Bengals' 20-yard line, and allowed his big-play offense a long pass of just 21 yards.
But the Jags made life even more miserable for Bengals quarterback Akili Smith and the rest of his mates in just his sixth NFL start. They sacked him five times while their every-down blitz forced him to make three of Cincinnati's four turnovers. They never allowed him inside the Jacksonville 20, and stopped running back Corey Dillon four times for either a loss or no gain in allowing him just 32 yards on 17 carries.
Throw in the fact that rookie kicker Neil Rackers is still seeking his first NFL field goal after misses from 44 and 47 yards, and Tremain Mack became the second Bengal kick returner to lose a fumble deep in his own territory in as many weeks, and the game was as ugly as the rain that pelted the Jags' home opener for much of the game.
"We laid an egg," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "That's all it is. We laid an egg. It's just so frustrating to come out here and score no points this week and just seven points last week."
Smith shook his head as he sat in front of his locker.
"I look up at the scoreboard and we're right in the game with a team that can go to the Super Bowl," Smith said. "And we're right with them. So close. So many chances. We were close. This close."
Welcome to the education of an NFL quarterback. The Jags stuck eight men in the box against Dillon and dared Smith to beat one-on-one coverage in the face of an assortment of linebacker blitzes and defensive line slanting.
They rushed Smith into just 18 completions of 41 passes for 183 yards and two interceptions. Asked what defense the Jags unveiled, Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander said, "Kill The Young Quarterback Defense."
Alexander's unit, thought to be the strength of the team, is reeling after its second straight bad game. The line was flagged for four seven penalties, including holding calls on left tackle Rod Jones, right guard Mike Goff and right tackle Willie Anderson on the first five plays.
"For whatever faults we've had, we've always been able to run the ball against a team that blitzed, pressured and stunted," Alexander said. "We've always been good at that. Today we weren't and that's what is disheartening. It was just bad. We've got no rhythm. I'm not offering any excuses. All I know is we have to fix it because the bad news is that Baltimore's got a great defense." . . .
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Bengals coach Bruce Coslet called it at Saturday night's meeting. With Hurricane Gordon stalking Florida, everyone knew the field and ball were going to be wet.
"The team that made the fewest turnovers was the team that was going to win and that's exactly what happened," said Coslet after losing the turnover war, 4-1. "We put our defense in adverse position continually and it took a spectacular tip-toe catch to get a touchdown on us. We wanted to run the ball a little more. We just couldn't get that going, We knew they were going to blitz us. That was no surprise. We were counting on it. . .The story of the game was the interceptions and fumbles."
The Bengals' bid for a quick start against the Jaguars got flattened when a penalty and Mack's fumbled kickoff staked Jacksonville to a 10-0 lead in the first 9:23. The special teams betrayed them again when Rackers shoved a 44-yard field goal try to the left.
The game opened with the Cincinnati defense apparently holding the Jaguars without a first down on the first two series. After Brunell killed the second drive by throwing the ball out of bounds on third down, Bengals cornerback Tom Carter was called for holding Smith along the sideline.
It was an automatic first down and for Brunell's 93.7 passing rating, that was dangerous. Three plays later he saw receiver Keenan McCardell running past cornerback Artrell Hawkins to the left corner and hit him for a 21-yard touchdown pass. McCardell reached out to snare the pass and scrape his second foot in-bounds for the touchdown, which had to be reviewed in order for the original incomplete pass call to be overturned.
"That was the kind of play that was a great catch, great throw and that's going to happen," said Hawkins of the Jags' longest pass of the game.
With Smith double-teamed for most of the plays, McCardell caught 10 balls for 108 yards, but the Bengals kept him in front of them after that play.
On the ensuing kickoff, Mack fumbled the wet ball at his own 17 a week after Yeast's fumbled punt deep in Cincinnati territory led to a Cleveland touchdown. This time the Bengals held the Jags to a 30-yard field goal, the first of Steve Lindsey's career in place of the injured Mike Hollis.
Smith didn't get sacked, but the Bengals could still do nothing in the first quarter on offense, keeping the ball less than five minutes for just 22 yards.
The Bengals' effort to put Smith in comfortable passing situations never happened. In the first half alone, Smith stared at third-down situations of nine, 18, 12, nine, eight, and 11 yards.
"It becomes repetitive to say each and every week," Smith said. "Saying we have to fix it. It's time for us to get it fixed."
Smith admitted he feels better about this team now after hanging with Jacksonville compared to last week when the Browns pounded them by 17 points in the Paul Brown Stadium opener.
"I felt better out there on the field today," Smith said.
But he and the Bengals know he has to play better if this team has a shot at doing anything. Coslet thought they had chances to make plays down field, but Smith didn't have time to make the throws.
"Just work on getting better young man and he will," said Coslet of his advice to Smith. "He's got that makeup in him, He's going through some hard times right now, but the team will stick with him, the coaches will stay with him and the most important thing I would tell him is to stay with himself and don't lose any confidence."
The game should have been broadcast on the Weather Channel. The game began under a tornado watch and a tropical storm warning with winds expected to gust in the 40 mile-per-hour range, but never seemed to hit that number. Rackers began the game with a kickoff into a steady rain that shortly turned into a downpour on a day the rain went on and off.
Tight end Tony McGee made his team-leading 105th straight start for the Bengals with a sprained right ankle and bruised left toes. Jags running back Fred Taylor was inactive with an injured knee.