Matchup of the game

9-21-01, 5:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

This is one of the reasons the Bengals signed seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Richmond Webb during the offseason.

Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary has eight career sacks against the Bengals.

And when he's not doing that, he's recovering the quarterback's fumble. As he did on Akili Smith's 16-yard line last year to set up the Ravens' first touchdown in five games.

And when he's not doing that, he's forcing the quarterback to fumble. As he did to Jeff Blake two years ago to set up a field goal that gave the Ravens' defense an untouchable 13-0 lead in a 22-0 victory.

Since Nov. 10 1996, no one in the NFL has more sacks than McCrary's 53. But Webb did shut him out when they met in the Dolphins' 24-13 victory over Baltimore in 1997.

"He changes direction. He's got more than one rush

move," Webb said. "He's a guy you can't play overly aggressive against. He has good lateral movement and you have to be patient with him."

Is the 31-year-old McCrary slowing down with 6.5 sacks last season after a four-year run he logged 48.5 in 64 games?

Probably not, given his style compared to a guy like Patriots defensive end Willie McGinest, the man Webb played in the opener. McCrary said during the offseason his weight slid to as low as the mid-230s last season before he got it back up to 270 for training camp. In his best years,he ranged from 255 to 265.

"It's just the way he plays," Webb said. "McGinest has the shakes and stuff, but you tend to get a little more out of McCrary on the run and the pass. He's the type of guy you think you have him blocked and you think the play is over with and he'll still make something happen. He's a great effort guy. You have to stay on him until the whistle blows."

**

FLAG DAY:** The atmosphere for Sunday's game figures to go beyond anything like Opening Day or the playoffs. It's going to be Memorial Day, Veterans Day and the Fourth of July rolled into one.

The Bengals and Ravens will play under a canopy of red, white and blue as the NFL honors the victims of last week's attacks.

"The Pledge of Allegiance is going to be a little more meaningful for me," said defensive tackle Oliver Gibson of the pre-game routine. "All of America was put on notice.

Usually, I'm in a zone by then, but every line is going to mean something as opposed to just being another ritual."

Tight end Marco Battaglia, probably the Bengal most affected by the attacks that left his hometown of New York City devastated, knows it will be emotional.

"Not just for me, but for everybody," Battaglia said. "The bottom line is a terrible thing happened to the country and the NFL took a week off for the first time in a long time."

GAME DAY: The Paul Brown Stadium crowd, along with the other 1 p.m. games, will watch Bon Jovi sing "God Bless America," accompanied by the Manhattan police and fire departments.

Also at the game:

All fans will receive an American Flag placard upon entering the stadium, donated by Berning Printing and C.J. Krehbiel Printing Companies

All fans will also receive a keepsake pamphlet for the in-game tribute;

Field-level "United We Stand" bunting will be on display;

The Ohio State University Marching band will perform pre-game and at half-time;

A field-sized American Flag will be unfurled prior to the National Anthem by more than 200 Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Professional Firefighters;

A patriotic video tribute will be showcased on the two 90-foot wide video screens;

A moment of silence will precede the National Anthem;

The colors will be presented by the Ohio Army National Guard;

The National Anthem will be sung by recording artists Trin-I-Tee 5:7;

Plus, all players will wear an American Flag Decal on their helmet, and all personnel will wear special sideline hats incorporating the American Flag.

The Bengals got a patriotic preview at Friday night's peace vigil at PBS. Head coach Dick LeBeau, accompanied by captains Willie Anderson and Takeo Spikes, briefly addressed the crowd.

LeBeau has suggested players donate to the cause. The NFL and the NFL Players Association has each donated $5 million to a disaster relief fund.

ANOTHER MCCRARY?: Speaking of McCrary, the Bengals hope they've got a younger version in first-round pick Justin Smith. They're both 6-4, 270 pounds and both play like it is their last snap. It just so happens that Smith makes his debut against Ravens Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden Sunday.

Webb, who has worked against Smith in practice, thinks he has special quickness.

"He has the capabilities,

the speed, and the athleticism as some of the guys in the league that have that quick first step," Webb said. "Something about a guy like that, he's got the advantage playing at home. The crowd noise gives the defensive end an advantage. The tackle's head has to look down at the ball. The end gets you to that point and it becomes tougher to block him."

What separates McCrary is his down-to-down intensity. That's what is supposed to make Smith special.

"It gets turned up in a game," Webb said. " If he plays in a game with the tempo of anything like he does in practice, I think he'll be fine."

MIND FRAMES: As emotional as Sunday will be, the Bengals haven't forgotten what is at stake for them as a team. They are playing the defending Super Bowl champions who have outclassed them, 86-7, in their last three meetings.

The players pretty much agree the team that got drilled, 37-0, in Baltimore

nearly a year to the day doesn't exist.

"We're confident going into play them and I don't think you could say that last year," Battaglia said. "I've been saying since minicamp this is a different team. We still feel like we're a different team."

Gibson agrees. For the first time in his Bengals career, the Bengals are 1-0.

"When you win that first game, the second game is always big," Gibson said. "We've always believed we can win. Now we're going to find out how good we are. It's a measuring stick game."

By the way, Gibson's defense is taking this one upon themselves. The unit that has vowed to improve last year's woeful production of 21 turnovers is still looking to generate its first one of the season.

The Bengals know in the Ravens' last four losses before they went on their 12-game winning streak, they had nine turnovers.

"We have to win the turnover battle. We have to get some," Gibson said. "We have to hit the quarterback."

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