Kids have field day

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Sunday was a great day if you were Dick LeBeau, a polar bear, or a Bengals rookie in Cincinnati's numbing 17-14 victory over Jacksonville.

Talk about a winter wonderland for wide receivers Danny Farmer and Peter Warrick, who had never seen snow until last Wednesday's practice, and kicker Neil Rackers, who had never tried a field goal that counted in the snow until three seconds left Sunday:

_In his first NFL start, Farmer had the Bengals' first 100-yard receiving day in 19 games when he grabbed 87 of his 102 yards in the final 3:43.

_In his first game returning every punt, Warrick broke off the Bengals' first touchdown return of the season with a which-way-did-he-go 82-yarder.

_In his first try ever at winning a game at the gun, Rackers calmly negotiated Paul Brown Stadium's tricky tundra that has dogged him all year for a 27-yard field goal.

"They gave me a chip shot. I should have made it anyway," said Rackers, who said he had more adrenaline than nerves. "I was actually fired up because on the last kickoff there was a guy just standing there and it might be the best hit I ever laid out in my entire life.

"He was just standing there and I said, "I've to get that guy,' and I just smacked him," Rackers said. "He got up cleaned off his face and said, 'Nice hit,' so I was just kind of fired up."

_And don't forget left cornerback Mark Roman, who led the Bengals with 10 tackles and forced a fumble he couldn't grab before it went out of bounds in his first NFL start.

"I didn't win this game," said Warrick, who also had three catches for 38 yards. ""You know who won this game? Danny Farmer."

Right tackle Willie Anderson's eyes were as big as the rest of him after watching Farmer.

"We kid him about being the next Cris Collinsworth," Anderson said. "But any of us who have seen him in practice knows he's a very athletic guy."

You figure it out. Here was Farmer, a Los Angeles kid who had never seen winter, gliding through snow and ice for the Bengals' first 100-yard game since Carl Pickens had 107 against San Francisco a year and two weeks ago.

With the Bengals' offense looking at their sixth game without scoring a touchdown with 3:43 left on a third-and-19 from their own 11, Farmer outjumped cornerback Fernando Bryant and free safety Rayna Stewart for a 38-yard catch.

On the next play, Farmer hooked up with quarterback Scott Mitchell on a 22-yarder over the middle, and he kept the touchdown drive alive when he got between Bryant and safety Donovin Darius in the Jags' deep zone coverage for a 19-yard catch that converted a third-and-10.

After Mitchell scrambled for a 12-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14 with 75 seconds left and the Bengals got the ball right back on a fumbled kickoff, Mitchell went right back to Farmer on the first play for a quick eight-yard out to set up Rackers' heroics.

But then, Mitchell finding Farmer is no surprise to them. As Mitchell sat behind Akili Smith and Farmer needed time to absorb a new offense, they threw a lot together early in the season.

"Danny was willing to do the little things to be successful," Mitchell said. "He would stay after practice on Mondays and throw and would even come in on Tuesdays, our off day. He does the little things to be a winner. When you throw together after practice, you learn each other and it's funny how those things work out in the end, especially in crunch time."

The 38-yard jump ball that absolutely had to be caught was pure Farmer. The Bengals liked the 6-3, 215-pounder's ability to jump and make plays at UCLA enough to covet him in the draft and were a bit disappointed when the Steelers took him in the fourth round.

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They didn't blink taking him off waivers when the Steelers cut him on Cutdown Day. The jump ball, a la Pickens, showed why.

"Actually, Scott and I have worked on that," Farmer said. "If it's a little short, that's OK because we've got some big strong guys on this team that can go up and get it.

"Whenever you're a receiver and a quarterback, you always have to try and figure each other out," Farmer said. "At first, Scott and I were tentative and we didn't know each other. We'd do a little extra every day and figure each other out and that's what we did, finally. We both got the chance to try and make the most of it."

Farmer was intrigued by his first snow in the two-inch dusting on Wednesday while the Bengals practiced on their Astroturf field. He stayed after that practice, too, but only to make some snow angels.

"What did help is the turf was a mess and so slippery and that kind of made people aware that you're going to have to hunker down when we run our routes," Farmer said. "That helped out the receivers a little bit."

What really helped Farmer was when he opted for longer cleats. In fact, he said he liked the conditions even though he said certain parts of the field were ice and there was barely any grass. It was mostly mud, "and if there was any grass it was covered in snow. But I enjoyed it because of the cleats I had."

Warrick looked like he was on skates during his return. He veered to the right, screeched back to the left, and then cut back to the right again with the Jaguars looking like they were trying to pick up a bar of soap in the tub.

"How many yards was it?" Warrick asked. Told it was 82, but he actually ran 182, Warrick smiled when asked what he was trying to do.

"Trying to score a touchdown," Warrick said. "You know me. I like to run back and forth."

Warrick indicated he knew exactly what he was going to do, that he actually thought about weaving back to the right a few times. Told punt returners are supposed to make one move and go, Warrick said, "No. That's a kick returner. Punt returners have to have that little zig zag and I've got it in me."

Warrick can't explain it: "It's God's gift," but less than five minutes later he gave the Jags a gift when he dropped a fair catch at his own 11 and gave Jacksonville what looked to be the winning points.

"It was turning and I turned sideways, too, and took my eyes off it," Warrick said. "That's just me. I was cool. That's football. You have ups and downs and I had to move on."

Rackers, now 6-for-11 on field- goal tries this year at home, knew nothing would be easy Sunday. But his holder, punter Daniel Pope, said it was actually easier to find a firmer place to kick from because of the frozen ground. The tough part was the cold and the ever-changing wind.

"On that last drive, Scott Mitchell saw some of the spots and he was trying to get us over to the left hash mark," Pope said. "It was still bad in the middle of the field, so if we had been a little farther back, I don't know what would have happened."

Rackers said Pope scooted about a half yard closer to him to get the firm spot, but it didn't matter.

He got his first walk-off field goal. It's something he never did in college and it's the first one for the Bengals since Doug Pelfrey's 39-yarder at the gun in Baltimore beat the Ravens four years ago.

"That's a great feeling when you're coming off," Rackers said.

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