Rackers solves temporary crisis

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals rookie kicker Neil Rackers and his holder, punter Daniel Pope, were visibly frustrated after Sunday's 24-13 victory over the Cardinals.

Rackers had just nailed the first clinching field goal of his career, a 32-yarder with 62 seconds left that cemented the victory.

But he was still thinking about the tries he missed from 36 and 45 as he struggled with the loose Paul Brown Stadium turf.

"It's a crapshoot on this field," Rackers said. "You follow through on your principles, do what you're supposed to do, and you end up reaching for the ball, or you're too close because you're just trying to find a solid piece of ground."

But like Pope said, "No one is to blame, it's just the way it is."

There are several reasons why the grass is torn up in the Bengals' new facility:

_The game field is supposed to be bluegrass, which is what is on the Bengals' practice fields outside the stadium.

But a drought killed the field while it was growing in Baltimore during the summer and the Bengals had to go to a temporary Bermuda grass field, which is more delicate.

_The temporary field's growth was hampered by a cool summer and late installation date because of construction delays.

_The field has undergone heavy traffic since the first open house attracted more than 100,000 people back in August. One prep game was played at PBS in September. The field also had a tough time recovering from 31 Pee Wee football games the weekend of Nov. 10-12.

"For a professional stadium and brand-new stadium, I'm very surprised," said Arizona cornerback Aeneas Williams, whose feet went out from under him after his interception. "It was like the whole ground came up. That was the first time I ever experienced something like that. . .The conditions weren't very good at all."

But there were reasons, and they played on the same field. The Bengals dealt with similar conditions in Baltimore's new stadium last year.

Arizona kicker Cary Blanchard said PBS was the worst field he'd ever worked on in nine NFL seasons after hitting the right upright from 31 yards away, and blowing an extra point.

"He was just doing what he always does and he sunk down about eight inches in the ground," Rackers said. "That's what happened out there and he kicks the ground."

Rackers pointed out that some of the finest kickers in the league have missed easy ones here this year. Detroit's Jason Hanson was 0-for-2 way back in August, and Denver's Jason Elam was 0-for-2 in October. Tennessee's Al Del Greco missed from 33 after coaxing through a 22-yarder that hit an upright.

"There isn't too much you can do with this field," Rackers said. "It seems like it's headed to a lost cause. You can stomp on the spot before the kick, but you run the chance of not stepping exactly right in the spot. When you did plant today, the front of your foot was buried and my heel was pointed up because it just sank."

All told at PBS this season, opposing kickers are 9-for-13, while Rackers is 5-for-10 for a total of 14-for-23 in Cincinnati. The average coming into the game for all NFL teams kicking field goals was 18-for-23.

One of the oddest sights of this or any other season had to be Bengals quarterback Scott Mitchell and some offensive linemen feverishly trying to do a bit of greenskeeping for the last field-goal try.

"It turned out that was our best spot all day," Pope said.

Told he should be near perfect on the bluegrass next year, Rackers said, "Check my percentage out there on the practice field. It's got to be close to 90 percent."

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