No kicks for Bengals

9-21-03, 11:10 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

There was the fake field goal and there was the field goal that never was.

Plus, there was the phantom hit on a Steelers' punt return during a very weird and decisive day in the kicking game Sunday here at Paul Brown Stadium.

Yes, outside linebacker Joey Porter made a triumphant return less than a month after he was shot in the buttocks. And head coach Bill Cowher let Jerome Bettis out of the room he shares with Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier in Steeler lore to dominate the last 21:45 with 59 yards on 16 carries that made the afternoon as classic as a six-pack of Iron City.

But everyone watching in the biggest Bengals' crowd ever at PBS (64,596) and at home knew the game turned on one play. If you wanted to get a dirty look in the Bengals' locker room, all you had to do was mention the fake field goal Cowher called with 2:30 left in a scoreless first half from the Cincinnati 32-yard line on fourth-and-three.

The Steelers said they knew it would work because they saw it on film during the week. The Bengals are going to have to check the film to see what happened, because some of their players said some of the guys on the field didn't get the correct call, and it was definitely a sore subject.

What happened is Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox stood up from his holding position, saw the only people close to tight end Jerame Tuman in the Bengals' right flat were the chain gang, and hit him for a 23-yard gain that set up the half's only score on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Maddox to wide receiver Hines Ward.

"We called a block. We were trying to block it," said middle linebacker Kevin Hardy. "The thing about it in that situation is it's a long attempt, and so if you come out with an all-out block, they can get you if they're able to execute the fake."

Hardy indicated no one was in coverage because the idea was to block the kick, and "We've got guys pushing in the middle and guys coming off the edge to block it." Cornerback Reggie Myles, who came

over from the left side to make the stop, and strong safety Marquand Manuel indicated not everyone got the block call.

"I've been calling a lot of them off because it seems like every time I've talked about one in the meeting, they give us something different than what they've shown," Cowher said. "I'm glad we did it because somebody was going to do it as some point."

The Steelers did it at that point with Maddox having the option of making the call as he scanned the defense while kneeling for the snap.

"It's something that they had been doing in previous games that we thought we could take advantage of," Tuman said. "They were rushing two guys off of the edge and not putting anyone back as a safety, and it we couldn't have drawn it up any better. (We) made the call and they put the perfect defense in for us and we capitalized on it."

Maddox said he wasn't sure if the Steelers would try to kick the 50-yarder, but he said the fake looked better in the game than in practice.

Less than four minutes before, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis had passed on Shayne Graham's 50-yarder into the wind, instead opting for punter Nick Harris and his bid to pin the Steelers deep. But as if to validate Lewis' concerns about the tricky wind, Harris sailed his kick almost completely out of the end zone.

""It was out of our range. It was a little longer than 50 yards, and it was into the wind,." Lewis said.

Graham, who later hit a 44-yarder going the same way in the third quarter and is 4-for-4 this season, has hit two from 50 in his three-year career. But he wasn't going to contradict Lewis. And he wasn't gong to say he couldn't hit it, either.

"It was a typical low-percentage kick into the wind, so I guess that's just the way he balanced it out," said Graham, who admitted the wind was stiffening the flags at that point and would have been a factor. "I don't think I missed anything shorter than 45 yards in pregame into the wind. You have to be on the field to know what's going to happen. Hindsight is always 20-20.

"I didn't have my windometer on me," said Graham when asked the strength of the wind. "It held up my kickoffs in that direction. The ball wasn't carrying as well as it was the other way. It's easy to think I could have made it because I didn't have to do it. But I could sit here and say if it was a 60-yarder, I think I could have made it. But if you ask me if I think I could have missed, I probably could have missed it, too. It's always up and down to everything."

But what looks clear is that Graham, claimed on waivers five days before the season opener from Carolina, is working out. The 44-yarder is not only his longest of the year (and it appeared it would have been good from 50), but it also brought the Bengals within four at 7-3 with 10:04 left in the third quarter. He has had at least one field goal in each game.

The kicking twists kept happening into the fourth quarter. Trailing, 17-3, with 12:35 left, Bengals free safety Kevin Kaesviharn recovered Antwaan Randle El's fumbled punt at the Steeler 12. Kaesviharn nearly ran into Randle El, but pulled up at his side, spun away from him, and didn't appear to touch him as Randle El dropped the ball.

But Kaesviharn was called for interfering with his opportunity to catch the ball, a 15-yard flag that gave the Steelers the ball on the Pittsburgh 29.

"He said I obstructed his path to the ball, but looking at it on the big screen, I don't think I did," Kaesviharn said. "I think I got out of his way. I didn't touch him, but that's a call you have to live with."

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