Simmons runs to spotlight

12-31-01, 7:40 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals middle linebacker Brian Simmons matched his uniform number Sunday with a 56-yard touchdown return that got Cincinnati back in the game for its first score in a 14-0 game.

He also matched his football soulmate, outside linebacker Takeo Spikes, after Spikes had his first return for a touchdown earlier in the year.

True to their natures, Simmons kept looking at the end zone as he battled a tweak hamstring, "because that's where I needed to get to." Remember when Spikes snuck a look at the video board during his 66-yard interception return against Baltimore?

"I get a lot of the hype and that has to do with a lot of different reasons," said Spikes, the first to leap on Simmons in the end zone. "He's just as good as I am. He makes me the player I am and I think I make him the player he is."

Simmons finally made the highlights on another day he was all over the place on pretty much every play. The Bengals held the NFL's No. 1 rush offense to 73 yards and blanked the Steelers in the game's final 30 minutes of what may have been their finest stand of their break-through season.

Simmons sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart in a fourth quarter the Bengals had two of their season-high four interceptions. The last one, defensive end Reinard Wilson's tip to the other end, Justin Smith, set up the score that cut the lead to 23-17.

"We've played like this the last month or so," Simmons said of his

defense. "But today, guys made some plays. We had some nice interceptions."

And a nice fumble return for touchdown when cornerback Robert Bean swooped in for the Steelers' fumbled field-goal snap at the Bengals 34-yard line. He ran 10 yards with it and then pitched back to Simmons. Instead of a 17-0 Steeler lead, it was 14-7.

"I saw Simmons out of the corner of my eye,"" Bean said. "I didn't see what happened. I was on the ground and just heard the crowd."

Simmons: "I couldn't block for him because the two people weren't in front of me. I just kept running with him and when the guy was tackling him, I yelled, 'Bean.' When I caught it, I knew I was gone."

Gone, but not won. That didn't happen until the offense finally cashed the opportunities the defense gave them in the final 2:46 of regulation and the overtime. On the first drive of overtime, Stewart faced a third-and-10 from the Cincinnati 39. Spikes, as he did more than usual Sunday, blitzed from the inside and forced Stewart into his seventh incompletion in his last 10 throws of the game.

Earlier in the game, Simmons was flagged 15 yards for roughing Stewart as he threw the ball running to the sidelines. The Bengals thought it was a needless call, but Spikes had it in mind on that last play and pulled up a bit.

"I didn't want to do anything stupid," Spikes said. "I knew he was rushing the throw. Whenever the quarterback takes five steps, he has to wait for the receiver to come out of that break before he throws it. . .so I wasn't going to do anything stupid and get a roughing the passer. I should have had a sack."

But Simmons got a touchdown, which Spikes enjoyed almost as much as his own. He tipped his hat to Simmons' notorious speed.

"He let it go," Spikes said. "If we were side by side, I would have stuck with him on the first 30 (yards), but after that I'm behind him. Keeping a good pitch relationship."

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