Jags take lead

12-9-01, 3:40 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Despite the Bengals tying a team-record eight sacks in the first three quarters and a cut index finger on his throwing hand, Jags quarterback Mark Brunell passed for 229 yards in giving Jacksonville a 14-10 early in the fourth quarter.

Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna, who also sprained the middle finger of his throwing hand in the third quarter, could only answer with 133 passing yards even though he hit seven straight passes at one point in the second half.

The Bengals, who came into the game having the lead for just 20 minutes in the last four weeks, took a 10-7 edge with 5:41 left in the third quarter when kicker Neil Rackers clicked with new long snapper Randy Chevrier on a 47-yard field goal.

Then on the next series, Bengals cornerback Mark Roman had a chance for another sack on a blitz to Jags Brunell's blind side. But Roman pulled up as Brunell completed a pass that gave Jacksonville a third-and-one near midfield.

But Brunell cut his throwing index finger on what appeared to be Roman's helmet and had to leave on the play Bengals middle linebacker Brian Simmons stuffed the third-and-one run.

But the Bengals, with just 182 total yards, could go nowhere and got a bad, 36-yard punt out of Nick Harris that put the ball at the Bengals 38.

Brunell returned to convert a third-and-19 on a 29-yard bullet to wide receiver Keenan McCardell between a zone and then found McCardell again on an 11-yard touchdown pass on third-and-three to give the Jags a 14-10 lead with 14:27 left in the game.

McCardell's partner, Jimmy Smith, already got his 100 yards in the first half and McCardell went into the middle of the fourth quarter with 92 yards.

The Bengals' defense continued its terrific post-bye play in Sunday's first half at Paul Brown Stadium as five sacks forged a 7-7 half-time tie.

Rookie cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn got his first NFL interception when he picked off Brunell on a third-and-20 after stepping in front of wide receiver Jimmy Smith to set the Bengals up at the Jags 38 with 2:52 left in the half.

After Kitna found wide receivers Chad Johnson (17 yards) and Darnay Scott (12 yards), running back Corey Dillon finished off the drive with a nine-yard touchdown run to tie the game at seven with 1:01 left in the first half.

Despite sacks by end Justin Smith (his second of the game) and tackle Tony Williams, Brunell drove the Jags to Mike Hollis' 44-yard field-goal try with nine seconds left in the half that bounced off the right upright to preserve the tie.

After Dillon's frigid start (he had 15 yards on his first eight carries), he finished the half 42 yards on 13 carries and had 58 on 21 carries in the middle of the fourth quarter. His touchdown off the left side came courtesy of fullbak Lorenzo Neal's pancake block on cornerback Aaron Beasley.

The special teams did help the Bengals again when Kaesviharn drilled Jags punter Damon Gibson before he could catch it at the Jacksonville 15 and gave Brunell life at his 31 on the game's second series. The Jags' running game, ranked third worst in the NFL, gouged the Bengals enough to set up big plays to wide Smith.

Smith got outside cornerback Robert Bean on a hook pattern and he got most of his 20 yards after the catch. Then on third-and-2, Smith stopped a pattern in front of the secondary over the middle at about his five-yard line and broke tackles by Bean and strong safety JoJuan Armour to complete a 17-yard touchdown that gave the Jags a 7-0 lead with 1:51 left in the first quarter.

Smith had his fifth 100-yard day against the Bengals already by the half with 105 on eight catches. Brunell hit 13 of 20 passes for 141 yards in the half off his 361-yard Monday night effort.

In an attempt to counter their injuries at tight end, the Bengals at times used 350-pound backup tackle Jamain Stephens as a blocker next to 340-pound right tackle Willie Anderson. They would also line up Dillon occasionally in a full-house back field with Neal and H-Back Nick Williams.

But the Bengals' offense couldn't run behind the beef and Kitna (eight of 15 passing for just 85 yards) couldn't hurt the Jags' battered secondary with the long ball.

On Cincinnati's first series, Chad Johnson had nickel back Kiwaukee Thomas beat down the right sideline about the Jags 10, but Kitna badly underthrew Johnson and Johnson's feet got tangled with Thomas. Then on the next series, Kitna half rolled out on a play-action pass and had Scott wide open on a post and the ball just went past Scott's fingertips.

Then on the next series, Kitna lofted a bomb for Johnson but he wasn't near the ball when Jags cornerback Aaron Beasley stretched out for an interception at the Jacksonville 24.

The Jags defensive line, anchored by right end Tony Brackens and left end Renaldo Wynn, dominated the first half. Working inside and outside on the left side of the Bengals' line, Brackens had a sack and a tipped pass in the first half.

With game time temperatures reaching a balmy 42 degrees and both secondaries limping, conditions were ripe for the Bengals and Jaguars to throw the ball.

Before the game, the Bengals made cornerback Artrell Hawkins (ankle) inactive for the second straight game while the Jags put down cornerback Fernando Bryant (foot) and free safety Marlon McCree (ankle).

The Cincinnati passing game took a shot when wide receiver Danny Farmer didn't dress because of a sprained ankle received last week in practice. But the Bengals hoped to boost their running game when they put left guard Matt O'Dwyer into the starting lineup for the first time since he sprained a medial collateral knee ligament Nov. 11 in Jacksonville.

With the Bengals starting at the remaining four games of the playoff-flirting Jets, Ravens, Steelers and Titans, this game has turned out to be their best matchup. The 3-8 Jags have lost seven of their last eight, but may have lost a lot more when owner

Wayne Weaver suggested last week it's time to rebuild.

"It can be a distraction. Everybody wants to know about their future," said Jags quarterback Mark Brunell last week. "When the team hears things are going to be dismantled, guys are wondering where they're going to play next year and it's a little upsetting. I don't think anybody is exempt from that possibility with our salary cap situation. . . .In the back of guys' mind, they're wondering, 'How long am I going to be a Jaguar?' and that's not easy."

It's not going to be easy for Jacksonville on the field, either. The Bengals are missing their top four tight ends and are turning to first-year player Kirk McMullen, but the Jags go into this game without linebackers Kevin Hardy, T.J. Slaughter and Danny Clark.

Still, the Jags, who lost at the gun at PBS last Dec. 17, 17-14, in the second coldest game ever in Cincinnati, had to be happy with the heat wave. They are still incensed with the condition of the field in that game, but the NFL didn't fine the Bengals because one of the game officials consulted with the club the night before the game.

"It was cold enough as it is," Brunell said. "Then to put that field into the mix last year and it was one of the most difficult situations you can play in. It was unfortunate because it was dangerous. I know guys were really concerned about that. There were holes in that field that were ridiculous."

The field was re-sodded down the middle before last week's game against Tampa Bay.

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