Not bye for long

10-29-01, 4:55 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

PONTIAC, Mich. _ So many things went wrong for the Bengals Sunday that it appeared the fans who went to the Pontiac Silverdome for a football game saw a three-ring circus break out.

In the old days, of course, P.T. Barnum would have had the last laugh on a Bengals' team that folded like one of his big tops at the slightest whiff of adversity. But on Sunday, it was the Bengals who were laughing. Even as Desmond Howard tore their hearts out with book-end long kick returns that finished the first half and began the second half.

"I was actually laughing during both kick returns," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "Because it happens everytime we come up here. The second one, I just burst out laughing. I was just telling guys, 'We'll win the game, but it will come down to the end.' I'm telling everybody. Everybody (says) 'Why you laughing?' I'm smiling, laughing because it happens everytime we come here."

Indeed, in the Bengals' preseason victory two months ago, Larry Foster returned a kick and a punt for a touchdown. And in the '98 regular season game the Bengals won here, they got a touchdown on Damon Gibson's punt return that countered a 67-yard scoring run by Lions running back Barry Sanders.

But the giggles foretold some grace under pressure. Anderson said the old Bengals would have "faltered," and now "the mentality is different."

Defensive captain Takeo Spikes agreed.

"It was just the mindset. It had nothing to do with talent," Spikes said. "It reminds me of that commercial from a long time ago. You know, 'A mind is a terrible thing to waste.' Now I know what they mean."

Spikes has no doubts the resiliency comes from LeBeau. The toughness LeBeau seeks can be seen in this week's bye schedule. Wishing to keep focus, LeBeau is giving the Bengals only the weekend off. Last year, head coach Bruce Coslet gave them nearly five days off.

"He's not bull jiving around," Anderson said.

"He's not about to give us three of four days off. We're not the type of team that can handle that yet."

So Anderson is backing his coach on the decision to work Friday and Monday. Spikes says he understands. Anderson, the offensive captain, says there are certain groups of players, "just not ready for that yet. Until guys show him that they can handle stuff like this (LeBeau won't give a lot of off days)."

THIS AND THAT: The Bengals' brass indicated there will be another discussion Monday about kicker Neil Rackers after he missed a 47-yarder and then made a 39-yarder. . . A MRI after the game at Paul Brown Stadium showed LB Canute Curtis doesn't have torn knee cartilage and is probable for the Nov. 11 game in Jacksonville. . .

The Bengals' 21 first-half points are the most in 25 games, since the Bengals led the Browns, 30-15 at halftime, Dec. 12, 1999 in the last Bengals' game at Cinergy Field, on the way to a 44-28 win. . .The Bengals now have 120 points in seven games. They didn't reach that mark last year until the 12th game. . .DT Tony Williams (foot) is expected back after the bye for Jacksonville. . .

WELL TRAVELED: Rookie corner Kevin Kaesviharn came to the Bengals via the Arena league and XFL at the urging of Bengals scout Duke Tobin. Tobin liked his 6-1, 185-pound frame and smarts. Not to mention his 14 indoor interceptions.

"It's hard to get 14 interceptions in arena ball," Tobin said. "It's a quick game and it's primarily man-to-man where they get a running start at you. You have to have some alertness, awareness, and quick hands."

Kaesviharn could also be back on the practice squad as soon as he was activated off it. Cornerbacks Artrell Hawkins and Mark Roman look to remain the starters, but Tom Carter (knee) and Robert Bean (hamstring) are probable for Nov. 11 in Jacksonville.

Kaesviharn made his NFL debut with one special teams tackle Sunday and although

he didn't play corner, they think he can.

The Bengals also liked that Kaesviharn spent a season coaching his alma mater's secondary at Augustana College in South Dakota and was substitute teaching in Sioux Falls when the Bengals called last week.

"He's a highly intelligent kid with very good ball skills who has a lot of range and good size," Tobin said."Plus, he's been productive in pro leagues."

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