Loss points to '02

12-10-01, 5:05 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals defensive captain Takeo Spikes couldn't hide his concerns Sunday about the possibility of a locker room splintering with the season.

Especially with one side of the ball playing so much better than the other. How much better?

The defense hasn't allowed more than two touchdowns in the five-game losing streak. The offense hasn't scored two touchdowns in the last five games.

" Absolutely (that makes it) harder to keep it together," Spikes said. "Real hard. That's when you start to see the discipline factor start to slip. That's human nature. . . 'What is there to keep playing for?'"

Spikes vowed to keep playing for pride, but also admitted, "it's sickening," to have another season end with meaningless games. "It really wears you down," he said, and he is angry with players talking about coaches and what they call.

"I don't give a damn what the coaches call," Spikes said. "I don't care how stupid the call may be. Before you ever get put in that situation where you think the call is stupid, make the play before so it doesn't even have to come down to that."

Willie Anderson, the offensive captain, is also frustrated at another December being played for next year.

"It's the same thing we do usually," Anderson said. "See who quits. If they quit, get rid of them for

next year and keep those guys who keep playing on. I wouldn't be surprised if we prepare for right now, but start looking at next year, too.

"You can't lay your teammates out to dry. You can't lay your coaching staff out to dry."

Anderson told his offensive mates before the game, "We owe our teammates and our coaching staff better than we're putting out."

He said after the game, "And then we go out and get 10 points. It's wearing me out."

Anderson is still looking for the team that gathered in the Paul Brown Stadium locker room before playing Cleveland without Spikes two months ago. He is looking for that confidence that fueled a 24-14 victory.

"There was no team in the NFL that could have beat that team," Anderson said. "The way our defense was playing. The way we were running the ball and passing it. This team lost that."

With the Bengals now looking to next year, it's expected they will discuss starting Akili Smith at quarterback at some point in the last four games. Incumbent Jon Kitna doesn't want to see that. But he doesn't think he'll see a fold, either.

"I've been in situations where neither side of the ball was playing well," Kitna said. "Our defense is pl aying with a lot fight. I don't think that's going to be a problem.

"Offensively, I'm hopeful guys understand this thing about building a team takes some time and hope we take the last four games and try to build towards the future."

**

THIS AND THAT:** It was a big day for two of the Bengals city of Cincinnati prep products. Woodward High School's John Jackson became the 171st NFL player to appear in 200 games. Taft High School's Vaughn Booker recorded his first full sack since coming over from the Packers last season as a free agent.

Jackson, 36, a backup left tackle in his 14th year who plays on some special teams, hit the field early Sunday morning with Bengals rookie defensive end Justin Smith, playing in his 11th game.

"That's unbelievable. That's crazy," Smith said told Jackson when he heard the number. "I can't see myself doing that."

"And that's not counting 13 playoff games," Jackson said. "I'm just treating it like any other day. Any other game. Just going to work."

Jackson signed a two-year deal back in January with the club having an option for next year. He has said he hasn't decided yet if he wants to play a 15th season. . .

Despite working with the club for just four days, Bengals new long snapper Randy Chevrier had a relatively flawless debut in place of the injured Brad St. Louis. Neil Rackers hit his third straight field goal to give the Bengals 10-7 lead with 5:41 left in the third quarter from 47 yards out. And punter Nick Harris dumped four of his six punts inside the 20, as well as saving Chevrier's low snap on the extra point. He was glad he got that out of his system for the field goal.

"The extra point didn't go as well as I thought it would. It was low and outside," said Chevrier, snapping against the team that drafted him last April in the seventh round and then cut him. "That might have been just an alignment on the line. It might have been a little off. The field goal was crisp and the kick was real good.

"They couldn't have made a guy feel more comfortable in his debut," said Chevrier, who snapped for Dallas in eight games earlier this year. . .

61 TO GO: After Bengals rookie cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn recorded his first NFL interception Sunday to set up the Bengals' only touchdown, head coach Dick LeBeau told him, "Welcome to the NFL."

"That meant a lot to me because he played the position," Kaesviharn said. Told he was now 61 interceptions behind LeBeau's total, Kaesviharn said, "Tell him to look out."

One thing Kaesviharn has on LeBeau is the Hat Trick. Rookie defensive end Justin Smith had one Sunday with his first three-sack game. With 23 interceptions in two Arena Football League seasons and three this past spring in the XFL, Kaesviharn now has picks in three different pro leagues. It took four years after leaving Div. II Augustana College, but. . .

"It took a long time, but I'm excited," Kaesviharn said of the NFL interception. "It's hard to be excited when you lose."

Kaesviharn went right to the top with about three minutes left in the first half when he stepped in front of

Jags wide receiver Jimmy Smith, the NFL's leading receiver over the past six seasons. It helped that quarterback Mark Brunell faced a 3rd-and-20 from his own 40.

"We were in a cover 3," said Kaesviharn of the deep zone. "I was expecting the No. 1receiver to go deep, No. 2 to do a corner route, and
then have the No. 3 receiver come out to the flat shallow to open up a little pocket. That's what was going through my head."

Kaesviharn said Brunell eyed Smith, the No. 2 receiver, "the entire time," and the read took Kaesviharn to the ball at the Bengals 33 and up the sideline for a 29-yard return, the longest by a Bengals' cornerback this season. It was the team's ninth interception of the year, tying last year's total.

But the secondary gave up big chunks for the first time in weeks in allowing their first 200-yard passing game (242) in five weeks, and their fourth 100-yard day by a receiver when Smith ended up with 119 on nine catches.

But it was receiver Keenan McCardell's 92-yard day that was the killer. Four of his eight catches converted third downs into first downs with the big one on the last play of the third quarter and the Jags trailing, 14-10. He split the Bengals zone for 29 yards on third-and-19 and then caught the winning score from 11 yards out on third-and-three against a Bengals defense that has been excellent on third down this year at 36 percent.

"It was kind of like a miscall," said cornerback Robert Bean of the 29-yarder. "We checked to another call. Half the field didn't hear it, the other half heard it because it's so loud out there."

Smith scored the Jags' first touchdown on another third down, this one with the Jags needing two yards from the 17. Brunell got it all when he hit Smith over the middle and Smith broke the tackles of Bean and strong safety JoJuan Armour.

"Jimmy Smith ran a curl and McCardell took me up the field and picked me off a little bit," Bean said.

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