Passing fancy?

12-9-01, 1:05 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

With game time temperatures reaching a balmy 42 degrees and both secondaries limping, conditions were ripe for the Bengals and Jaguars to throw the ball Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Before the game, the Bengals made cornerback Artrell Hawkins (ankle) inactive for the second straight game while the Jags put down cornerback Fernando Bryant (foot) and free safety Marlon McCree (ankle).

The Cincinnati passing game took a shot when wide receiver Danny Farmer didn't dress because of a sprained ankle received last week in practice. But the Bengals hoped to boost their running game when they put left guard Matt O'Dwyer into the starting lineup for the first time since he sprained a medial collateral knee ligament Nov. 11 in Jacksonville.

With the Bengals starting at the remaining four games of the playoff-flirting Jets, Ravens, Steelers and Titans, this game has turned out to be their best matchup. The 3-8 Jags have lost seven of their last eight, but may have lost a lot more when owner

Wayne Weaver suggested last week it's time to rebuild.

"It can be a distraction. Everybody wants to know about their future," said Jags quarterback Mark Brunell last week. "When the team hears things are going to be dismantled, guys are wondering where they're going to play next year and it's a little upsetting. I don't think anybody is exempt from that possibility with our salary cap situation. . . .In the back of guys' mind, they're wondering, 'How long am I going to be a Jaguar?' and that's not easy."

It's not going to be easy for Jacksonville on the field, either. The Bengals are missing their top four tight ends and are turning to first-year player Kirk McMullen, but the Jags go into this game without linebackers Kevin Hardy, T.J. Slaughter and Danny Clark.

Still, the Jags, who lost at the gun at PBS last Dec. 17, 17-14, in the second coldest game ever in Cincinnati, had to be happy with the heat wave. They are still incensed with the condition of the field in that game, but the NFL didn't fine the Bengals because one of the game officials consulted with the club the night before the game.

"It was cold enough as it is," Brunell said. "Then to put that field into the mix last year and it was one of the most difficult situations you can play in. It was unfortunate because it was dangerous. I know guys were really concerned about that. There were holes in that field that were ridiculous."

The field was re-sodded down the middle before last week's game against Tampa Bay.

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