Rackers looks to get reprieve

11-26-01, 6:25 a.m.

Updated: 11-26-01, 3:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

After sort of sleeping on it Monday morning, Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau appeared to give kicker Neil Rackers a reprieve after Sunday's missed field goals of 43 and 47 yards in the first half when Cincinnati trailed, 3-0 and 6-0.

LeBeau dismissed questions about his credibility in sticking with Rackers through a slump in which he has missed nine of his last 15 field-goal tries and is 9-for-18 on the season, saying he doesn't feel he has given Rackers a rope longer than others on the team.

"We have another kicker on the practice squad and there's no subliminal message there," LeBeau said of Jaret Holmes. "We're trying to get a good, young kicker an opportunity to show us that he can kick at this level."

LeBeau wouldn't confirm Rackers is his man for this week against Tampa Bay because he didn't have a chance to talk to his players Monday. With the Bengals forced to take a bus because of plane problems in Cleveland, they didn't arrive at Paul Brown Stadium until 12:30 a.m. and were give the day off with a light workout to follow Tuesday.

But LeBeau gave the same indication Monday that he gave Sunday after the game. He continues to be impressed with Rackers' power and chalked up the 43-yard miss to the wind. Plus, Bengals President Mike Brown is mindful of kickers like current Vikings punter Mitch Berger and former Chargers kicker John Carney, whom passed through Cincinnati on the way to the Pro Bowl after getting their careers settled.

But LeBeau did say Rackers' kicking isn't good enough and that the Bengals won't carry two kickers into a game. So if Holmes is signed off the practice squad, Rackers, a sixth-round pick in 2000, would be released.

"The longer kick hit the (left) upright," LeBeau said. "Not far off, but you might say that about our whole team."

After the game, Rackers said, "I can honestly say both were going right down the middle. That one just hit a brick wall. . .As soon as we got out there for the first field goal, (the wind) just wooshed, gusted up."

At least one Sunday sideline observer said Rackers hit three 63-yarders into the wind in pre-game warmups. And LeBeau said he had Rackers take a long try into the wind on his last warm-up kick and "he popped it through there real well. I don't know whether the wind was gusty or I caught a good kick there, but it was really blowing. He just couldn't make it against the wind. It was too strong. Had I realized that, I would have gone for (the first down) in that situation. We had the range to make it, but the wind was just too severe."

Going the other way in the second quarter and the Bengals trailing, 6-0, Rackers drilled the left upright from 47 yards.

"It was going right-left a little bit," Rackers said. "You could see the uprights because it was straight the whole way, then you could see the flags going right to left and it just took off."

T.J. TEES OFF: Only Carl Pickens (95 yards in 1992) and Lemar Parrish (90 in 1974) have taken a punt longer than the 86 yards rookie receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh went Sunday on the first play of the fourth quarter. Both of those went for touchdowns, as did Craig Yeast's 86-yarder in 1999 against the Ravens.

But Houshmandzadeh got chased down at the 5-yard line Sunday by tight end Aaron Shea, the man who missed him 70 yards before. And when the Bengals couldn't get a touchdown, Houshmandzadeh replayed it in his mind.

There he was, following wide receiver Danny Farmer's block on punter Chris Gardocki down the right

sideline and then he cut inside instead of staying outside.

"I should have scored," Houshmandzadeh said. "If I had, it just (would have changed) the whole morale of everyone's mindset. 'We're down five points and we have a chance for real.'

"I was tired. I should have just stayed with Danny," he said. "I probably should have pushed Danny. He's 215, 220 pounds and it would have knocked him and the kicker down."

Just four minutes earlier, Houshmandzadeh had a made a rookie mistake and tried to fight the wind for a fair catch and fumbled it away at the Bengals 21: "I wasn't smart about it. . . We had talked about the wind Friday night, but I thought I could catch it, but the wind just kept pushing it back down. I got my hands on it, but it was too far out and low."

On his big return going the other way, he patiently waved everyone off a bouncing ball, picked it up after five yards, and took off to the right: "I don't even remember the first 15 to 20 yards."

**

THIS AND THAT:** LG Matt O'Dwyer, who has missed the last two games with a sprained knee, is questionable for the next week's game. . .So is CB Artrell Hawkins (ankle) and receiver Peter Warrick (shoulder). . .Punter Nick Harris drilled three of his five punts inside the 20. Rookie cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn downed one of them at the Browns 1.

NO NOSTALGIA: You don't have to tell Bengals cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle about Browns receiver Kevin Johnson. Coyle recruited Johnson to the Carrier Dome when he was the defensive coordinator at Syracuse, so Coyle knew Johnson could hurt the Bengals again. And after Johnson hit them up for 153 yards last month, he went for 113 Sunday on six catches.

But Coyle thought except for a 47-yard bomb in the first quarter, cornerback Mark Roman held up pretty well against Johnson after No. 1 corner Artrell Hawkins was lost for the game with a high ankle sprain on the game's first play.

As fate would have it, with six receivers active, the Bengals went with one less corner. Of their two rookies, the the Bengals went with Kevin Kaesviharn instead of Bo Jenings in a mild surprise.

"We talked about it during the week and felt like Kevin would get an opportunity this week if we had to decide between the two," Coyle said.

After Johnson clearly beat Roman for 47 yards down the sideline in one-on-one coverage in the first quarter, the Bengals appeared to give Roman some safety help on a long ball in the second quarter. Before strong safety JoJuan Armour could get there, Johnson leaped and made a juggling 33-yard catch with Roman draped on him. That put the ball on the Bengals 9 and set up Phil Dawson's 27-yard field goal that made it 6-0.

"The first one he was clearly beaten," Coyle said. "But the second one was good coverage. He just missed the ball on the way down."

Roman didn't miss it late in the third quarter, when he got his first career interception by fending off Johnson on a fade route in the end zone.

All in all, not a bad day for Coyle's guys. Considering his three most experienced corners (Rodney Heath, Tom Carter, Hawkins) were unavailable and he was left with two second-year guys in Roman and Robert Bean, and an Arena and XFL refugee in Kaesviharn. Browns quarterback Tim Couch was just 16 of 27 for a 62.1 passer rating.

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