10-3-03, 5:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Everyone is talking about the Alumni Weekend in crispy Upstate New York Sunday as the Bengals visit the Bills and their former trio of employees Takeo Spikes, Dick LeBeau and Tim Krumrie.
But Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna and Bills strong safety Lawyer Milloy ought to at least get a float in the parade. It's just the second time the two Tacoma, Wash., Pop Warner and Lincoln High School teammates have met since they came into the NFL in 1996.
"He called me this week and said he has to even the score at 1-1," said Kitna, whose Bengals beat Milloy's Patriots, 23-17, on Opening Day, 2001 at Paul Brown Stadium. "We've talked a lot since that day."
Like a month ago, when Kitna placed a hurried call to Milloy after hearing New England stunned the NFL by releasing its four-time Pro Bowler five days before the regular-season opener.
"I wanted to see if we could get him because I know what he can mean to a team," Kitna said. "But I just think it happened so fast, there was really no time. He was stunned, but in the end he thought it was a big-time blessing because he didn't know the rest of the league thought about him like that and he got a lot of calls."
The rest is New England history, as tortured as the Red Sox past. The day after the Pats released him, Milloy signed with the Bills, and four days later he haunted his former mates like some ghostly Pemaquid Point sea captain when he had a sack and tipped a pass for an interception in Buffalo's 31-0 slugfest.
"It looks like he's more active than he ever was in New England," Kitna said.
MATCHUPS:Call it Takeo Spikes vs. The World, or the Bengals vs. Takeo Spikes, or what you will, but for now, just call it theBengals TEs vs. Bills ROLB Takeo Spikes.But that matchup could be dictated by rookieBengals LG Eric Steinbachvs.Bills DTs Sam Adams and Pat Williams,and he could also get some shots at Spikes While you're asking if elusiveBengals WR Peter Warrickcan get away from one of the league's surest tacklers inBills CB Antoine Winfield,, they also have to find out ifBengalsWR Chad Johnsoncan outguessBills CB Nate Clements.**
For the second time since they played Pop Warner together, the Tacoma tandem of Bengals QB Jon Kitna matches wits with Bills SS Lawyer Milloy, but the blitz pickups of the running backs may dictate how that goes.
Cincinnati has to bring the heat and the best way may be to send it up the middle with Bengals MLB Kevin Hardy bearing down on Bills QB Drew Bledsoe to take advantage of Buffalo's next-to-last-in-the-league running game. Talk about heat, the man replacing Peerless Price is getting plenty of it so the best way to stop the big gun may be for Bengals CBs Tory James and Jeff Burris to make sure Bills WR Josh Reed doesn't pick this week to go off.
Bengals P Nick Harris needs better numbers against AFC leader Bills P Brian Moorman.
BENGALS TES VS. SPIKES:** The Bengals get first-hand what they saw Spikes do for them for five years. He can run, pursue, and is a solid tackler. He's already got twice as many interceptions as he did last year (2), and has a fumble recovery. The Eagles rushed for 177 yards last week against his defense and the best way to try and tie him up may be to get a bigger body on his 242 pounds.
The Bengal tight ends are a little bigger than Spikes, although Matt Schobel might not play because of a hamstring injury. Schobel is pushing it this week and not because he wants to play against his brother, Bills defensive end Aaron Schobel. He wants to prove he doesn't have a chronic problem, and maybe he noted Reggie Kelly's touchdown catch last week on the goal line, a spot where he has been a factor in the past.
But the 255-pound Kelly and the 260-pound Tony Stewart are the primary blockers, although Stewart's five catches last week reflect how much the position has improved in the passing game. The three already have more yards than the tight ends had all last season with 235 yards. **
STEINBACH VS. ADAMS, WILLIAMS:** The 335-pound Adams and the 315-pound Williams (estimated) are the key guys in keeping things open for the Bills' prized new linebackers. Marvin Lewis thought long and hard about a Super Bowl reunion with the 30-year-old Adams in free agency, but he opted to go for the youth of the 26-year-old Thornton. But Lewis knows Adams is still literally a big factor and will be Sunday.
"Add about 20, 30 pounds (to their roster weights) and that's probably what they really are," said the tiny 297-pound Steinbach.
Steinbach knows the one knock on his future that is pretty much limitless: He needs to put on some muscle.
'I have to have good pad level and concentrate and be focused on staying low," he said. "If I start playing high, I'll get my butt kicked. Sam's bigger, but they're both physical."
If he's asked to pull and go against Spikes, he knows he'll have to do the same thing: "Takeo's a real physical guy who is fast and runs to the ball. If I'm pulling, it's just like going against one of the bigger guys. I'm going to have to get lower than him." **
WARRICK VS. WINFIELD:** The 5-10, 180-pound Winfield is one of the most feared tacklers in the NFL. He's had 11 tackles in each of the last two games and lines up against Warrick in the slot on passing downs. Warrick has just a 9.2 yards per catch average, but 14 of his 22 catches have gone for first downs. He won't be able to back up and make a move on Winfield.
JOHNSON VS. CLEMENTS: It's the AFC receiving leader (370 yards) vs. the cornerback with the second most interceptions in the conference (3). Clements is fast and smooth, but he likes to guess and gamble, and he can get beat or end up getting a holding penalty, like he has once already the season. But it's also why he's half of what may be the league's best corner tandem, and why he's had four picks in his last six games going back to when he intercepted Bengals QB Jon Kitna in last year's finale. He had a pair in the loss to Miami two weeks ago and gets them at key times. He returned the second one for a touchdown against the Dolphins for 54 yards that pulled the Bills within 10-7. **
KITNA VS. MILLOY:** The boys have been talking like the two guys who played together at Lincoln High School always do. Kitna says it looks the Bills have expanded their package to allow Milloy to do more things than he even did while going to the Pro Bowl four times for the Patriots.
Will Milloy's antics force the Bengals to play their running back that is the best blitz pickup? That would probably be Brandon Bennett. But what if they need Rudi Johnson to drain the clock and churn some yards? On passing downs, word is Milloy virtually lines up like a weak-side linebacker, although he hasn't had a sack since the detonation of Tom Brady in the opener.
BLEDSOE VS. HARDY: You need the band 10 Years After for this one. Bledsoe, the NFL's No. 1 pick in 1993, goes against Carson Palmer, the NFL's No. 1 pick in 2003. But, of course, Palmer isn't playing. Bledsoe isn't off to a scorching start like last year (4 TDs, 3 Ints), but the man can sling it blindfolded, he always provides a huge test for any secondary, and he's one of this league best competitors. But he isn't getting any nimbler, and he's always moved about as well as the downstairs dryer. And if running back Travis Henry doesn't play or the Bills' running game plays like its No. 31 ranking, well, Bledsoe has been sacked eight times and the middle of the offensive line struggles at times. Trey Teague is in just his second season playing center and right guard Mike Pucillo gave up the two sacks last week. **
JAMES, BURRIS VS. REED:Where have you gone Peerless Price? He formed one of the NFL's leading receiving duos last year with Eric Moulds, but the Price was right in Atlanta and the usually explosive Moulds has just one touchdown in four games. Reed caught just one ball last week and four in the last two games, and is supposedly being pushed by 4.2 rookie burner Antonio Brown. The thing about Moulds is he usually pillages the Bengals. He had nine catches and a touchdown against them last year and had a career-high 196 yards in Cincinnati in 1998.
HARRIS VS. MOORMAN:** Harris has struggled with a 29.5-yard net, while Moorman's 41.2 is first in the AFC, and second only to the Saints' Mitch Berger (42.3) in the NFL. Harris' 40.3 overall average has put an AFC-low three punts inside ther 20-yard line. Moorman has a booming 49.2-yard per punt average, but that could give the Bengals' Peter Warrick and his 13.9-yard return average some room to maneuver.
NUMBERS GAME:** All the numbers you need for Sunday's game in Buffalo, including 194-2,544-19 and 172-2,288-20. The first set is the number of catches, yards, and touchdowns combined last season for Bills receivers Eric Moulds and Peerless Price. The second set is the pace this year for catches, yards, and touchdowns combined by Bengals receivers Peter Warrick and Chad Johnson.
0-12 _ The Bengals' record since 1995 when they have gone for back-to-back victories on the road, including overlapping seasons. New head coach Marvin Lewis already got the Bengals over one road obstacle last week in Cleveland when they came up with their first September road victory in the division in 10 games.
52 __Bengals running back Corey Dillon's streak of consecutive starts to be snapped Sunday in Buffalo.
14 _ Dillon's 100-yard games in those 52 starts.
7-7 _ Bengals record in those 100-yard games.
0 _ Number of turnovers Bengals had in last week's win, their first game with none since last season's victory over Houston 12 games ago.
952 _ Yards caught by Bengals tight ends in the three previous seasons.
940 _ Projection for yards caught by the tight ends in 2003 after the first four games.
15 _ Passes defensed by Bengals defensive backs in first four games for a season's pace of 60.
35 _Passes defensed by Bengals defensive backs last season.
5,249 _ Career passes attempted by Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe, 10th on the all-time list.
5,205 _ Career passes attempted by Boomer Esiason, 11th on the all-time list.
2,992 _Career completions by Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe, 10th on the all-time list.
2,969 _ Career completions by Boomer Esiason, 11th on the all-time list.