Jones might play

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals left tackle Rod Jones is expected back in Cincinnati Monday night after being discharged from Massachusetts General Hospital and could be cleared to play Sunday against the Steelers if he clears a few more hurdles.

No abnormalities surfaced during tests Monday after Jones complained of chest pains and shortness of breath late in Sunday's 16-13 loss in Foxboro, Mass., to the Patriots.

Bengals trainer Paul Sparling said if Jones passes a stress test in Cincinnati Tuesday, he'll be cleared to play Wednesday.

Sparling said the Jones' incident can't be compared to defensive end Vaughn Booker's fainting episode in Jacksonville Sept 17. Booker didn't play for three weeks while undergoing a battery of tests, but Sparling said there's a difference between Booker passing out and Jones having concrete symptoms.

"We still don't know the source of it, but nothing bad has shown up on any of the tests," Sparling said of Jones. "We feel comfortable with what's been done. There's a strong likelihood we'll let him go ahead and come back."

Jones returns to a different offensive line, especially if he can't play. John Jackson, the other left tackle, is two or three weeks away from playing with a pulled hamstring. If Jones can't go, backup right tackle Jamain Stephens gets his first regular-season work ever at left tackle Sunday against his old Pittsburgh club.

Left guard Matt O'Dwyer went on season-ending injured reserve with Sunday's broken ankle, meaning Scott Rehberg gets his first start since Opening Day in his spot.

Tackle Mike Doughty, a 6-7, 305-pound second-year player from Notre Dame, has been activated for the first time ever from the practice squad.

LJ's REVENGE: In his first game against the Bengals since they cut him after he blasted management with three games left in the 1998 season, Patriots punter Lee Johnson delivered a field position lesson.

The Bengals outgained the Pats by 74 yards and had the ball five minutes longer, but a major reason they lost is because Johnson pinned them five times inside the Bengals' 17.

Before the game, Johnson was clearly surprised and grateful that Bengals President Mike Brown walked up to him on the field to shake hands and say hello. It was their first meeting since that day nearly two years ago.

In fact, the happy-go-lucky Johnson didn't quite know what to say, except, "I'm a bad man, what can I say?"

After Brown patted him on the shoulder and left, Johnson recalled how his 11-year career in Cincinnati ended so badly. He ended up fighting a $20,000 fine for conduct detrimental to the team the day he got cut. He later settled and paid $12,000.

"Mike Brown's a nice man. He was good to my family. He sent us flowers when we had kids," Johnson said. "If I knew I was going to get cut, I never would have said it. The thing I regret is it made me look ungrateful for the chance Paul (Brown) gave me in 1988 when they brought me in to kick off. My career's over if they don't pick me up."

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CURSE OF LJ:** Still, anybody notice the kicking game hasn't been quite right since Johnson left? Punter Daniel Pope and rookie kicker Neil Rackers are starting to have things well in hand, but Rackers' string of five straight field goals was snapped when his 30-yard attempt hit the left upright on the first series of the second half.

But minutes later, he nudged through a career long 45-yarder to give the Bengals a 13-10 lead.

"It felt good to get a long one under my belt, but you've got to win the gimmies," Rackers said. "I pulled my head off the ball a little bit. I just let go and lifted my head and that pulled me left, just like what I was doing early in the year."

Left guard Matt O'Dwyer's season-ending broken ankle a few plays before the miss forced a hurried substitution with Rich Braham racing into O'Dwyer's spot.

"That wasn't a factor," Rackers said. "We practice hurry-up field goals every Thursday, so that shouldn't matter."

But Pope, his holder, would have taken a timeout and made it a 35-yard field goal try if he had to do it all over again.

"I was looking at the play clock all the way and I told (Rackers) if they're not set, I'd take a timeout," Pope said. "It got to 6 and 5 and I turned around and saw they were set so I went ahead. But looking back, if that happens again with a rookie kicker and it's a short field goal, I'll call timeout."

By the way, Pope did a nice job containing AFC punt return leader Troy Brown with his hang time. Pope hung two inside the New England 20, had one touchback, and Brown returned two for just 11 yards and had a fair catch.

Pope had a curious pre-game incident with Patriots safety Larry Whigham when Whigham kicked a ball away from him during warmups. The two jawed some, but they joked about it after the game and wrote it off to both being jacked up for the game.

FUTURE GLIMPSE?: With fifth-rounder Robert Bean getting an interception in his first NFL start and second-rounder Mark Roman making his first play in his third game, it looked like Sunday was the official coming out for the Bengals' cornerbacks of the future.

Both victimized Patriots receiver Tony Simmons.

Roman, the fourth corner in the dime package, forced the Pats to kick a field goal on their last series of the first half when he knocked down quarterback Drew Bledsoe's third-and-16 pass in the end zone.

Bean blunted Bledsoe's first drive of the second half when he grabbed the ball off Simmons' chest in mid-air at the Bengals 49 as he closed fast on the receiver.

"We were in a defense that puts the corner in a safety position. Deep," Bean said of a play that survived replay. "I read the corner route and I just played the ball. I broke on it. I fought for the ball. (It could have gone) either way. As we fell, we both grabbed it. I just pulled it away and showed I had it."

Still, Bean got schooled at times by veteran receivers Terry Glenn (11 for 129) and Troy Brown (8 for 110) as he gave a cushion most of the time. Particularly on Glenn.

"I knew any team is going to come after a rookie in his first start in the game," Bean said. "They were trying to take advantage of (the soft coverage). They made some plays. I made some plays. That's how it's going to be every game.

"I knew they wanted to go deep," Bean said. "I knew they wanted the big play, so we took away the deep pass and let them go with the short pass and try to break on it and make a big play."

Roman, inactive for eight games, looked relieved. He said it was the first time he felt like part of the defense: "Things happen fast in the red zone, so I wasn't really thinking about a pick. I saw it all the way and just wanted to get it away."

SPIKES TAKES STAND: Defensive captain Takeo Spikes led a group of players who verbally ripped representatives of Channel 5 in Sunday's post-game locker room and wouldn't grant the station interviews.

They're steaming over how the station staked out kick returner Tremain Mack for weeks and produced video of him driving. Mack could go to jail because driving is a violation of his probation that stems from two DUI arrests in 1997 and 1998.

"I'm not (defending) Tremain," Spikes said. "I'm taking up for Tremain because he's on our team. . . It's not morally right. . .Pick out 10 people who have suspended licenses and follow them around for a long period of time. Don't come in here and act like nothing ever happened."

Spikes wasn't happy the station was on the team's charter flight and had hoped it would be barred for the story.

"I'm tired of it. I think that's one of the problems," Spikes said. "It's like we just blow it off and do nothing. It's not right at all. If it's up to me, I put their butt out and wouldn't let them on the plane. That hurts."

Bengals President Mike Brown said he understands how the players feel because he also felt the story was wrong.

"The only reason they did it to Mack was because he happened to be a football player," Brown said. "I'm not going to go tit for tat. They have their business to run. We have our business to run. I don't agree with what they did and I can understand why the players are irritated."

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