Simmons looks for answers, not regrets

11-19-02, 8 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Here are the Bengals, who on paper supposedly had their best talent in years, stalking the NFL's worst record for the third time (1993 and 1998) in 10 seasons.

Here is a defense that in last season's final seven games held foes to 86 yards rushing and 17.5 points per game and then didn't lose a man during the offseason before giving up an average this season of a next-to-last-in-the-NFL 138 yards on the ground and a third-to-last-in-the-NFL 28 points.

"It's the same defense and we're playing like this?" asked middle linebacker Brian Simmons. "That's the Eighth Wonder of the World."

The ninth may have been Simmons' decision back in August to sign a deal averaging nearly $4 million per year that keeps him in Cincinnati through 2008.

"No," said Simmons Monday, when asked if he had second thoughts. "This year is this year. It doesn't mean the next six are going to be like this. It can be changed. It's not something that can't be changed. It can change around pretty quickly in this league."

Changes? He expects them.

"I'm not saying that people have to be fired because I don't want anybody to get fired," Simmons said. "But things can change. There has to be a change. That's evident. We're 1-9. To sit here and think something doesn't have to be changed, you'd be fooling your damn self."

But Simmons sees himself only

in the middle of the defense and not in the middle of the Bengals' decision-making.

"They pay me to do my job," Simmons said. "If they want to come and ask me 'What would you do if you were in charge?' but I do what they tell me and I'll be 100 percent into it."

What Simmons does do is wonder how this team is 1-9. He was a rookie in 1998 and everyone pretty much knows why they won a mere 11 games in his first three seasons. They were too young. But he knows that isn't an excuse this year.

"It is mind boggling," Simmons said. "I'd rather be on a 9-1 team with no talent than a 1-9 team with talent. The most frustrating thing is the expectation we had for ourselves coming into this season. What we thought we could get done and then to come out and play like we have is very frustrating. It's the most frustrated I've been since I've been here."

What frustrates him the most is his defense. He comes in on his offday to watch tape and after he rewinds and forwards and freezes, he still doesn't know.

"(Cleveland) came in here averaging 70 something yards running and they got 140. That's ridiculous," Simmons said. "I don't want to keep saying it, but in the running game, a lot of times we don't have the right fits. It's a little bit of everything and a little bit of everybody. It's the kind of thing where everybody has to do their job."

With six games left, Simmons is trying to counsel to take it one at a time and not think about '03 yet.

"The good thing about it is, when it's over, that was last year and that's it," Simmons said. "But I don't want to think about next year. There's six games left and there's plenty that can be done. We have to prepare like each one is the last ."

ANTICIPATION FOR HEINZ: If there's one field getting blasted more than the Paul Brown Stadium grass, it's the greensward the Bengals play on Sunday in Pittsburgh. Heinz Field was re-sodded before the Steelers played their 34-34 tie with Atlanta on Nov. 10. Except that was the third game on the field in four days following a high school double-header and a University of Pittsburgh game.

The field will be re-sodded after the Bengals play, but not before four high school games go off on Friday. Steelers President Dan Rooney has acknowledged a problem and so have the players. Receiver Hines Ward said he would have had an OT touchdown if the turf didn't give on a short pass, and running back Amos Zereoue said he had to change his running style to straight ahead because he was slipping into the back of his linemen when he tried to cut back.

"It's like sand out there," said linebacker Kendrell Bell. "It was pretty rough. I slipped a couple of times."

The Bengals are considering other options for next season, such as field turf or a change in the composition of the base under the field.

BUS EN ROUTE: Word out of Pittsburgh Tuesday is that running back Jerome Bettis is going to be back in the lineup this Sunday against the Bengals after spending the last month hobbled by a knee problem. And why not? Bettis rung up his 10th career 100-yard game against Cincinnati five weeks ago in the Steelers' 34-7 win with 109 yards on 21 carries.

But the Steelers do have injury problems with Pro Bowl alternate center Jeff Hartings (knee) and linebacker James Farrior (knee) ruled

out of the game. So are their extra defensive backs in passing downs, with cornerback Hank Poteat (knee) and safety Mike Logan (groin) shelved.

Inside linebacker Larry Foote is doubtful and both fullback Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala and cornerback Chidi Iwuoma are questionable. The Bengals won't get Todd Peterson, the free-agent kicker who signed with Pittsburgh after visiting the Bengals. The Steelers put him on injured reserve Tuesday with a broken rib, ending his season with a NFL-high nine field-goal misses.

The Steelers opted to replace Peterson with Jeff Reed. Reed, a college free agent out of North Carolina, got cut by the Saints in preseason after he made both of his field-goal tries. One was a 28-yarder against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

Quarterback Tommy Maddox was released from a Pittsburgh hospital Tuesday after his bruised spine got a clean bill of health. Kordell Stewart goes against the Bengals, but Maddox can return to non-contact practice next week.

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