12-10-01, 1:55 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Justin Smith, the Bengals' unflappable rookie, had just completed his break-out game with three sacks Sunday when he sacked the media by informing them it wasn't exactly a world event.
Big. But no big deal.
Smith, the Bengals' new sack leader with five of his 7.5 sacks coming in the last two games, shrugged off his success.
"Be a guy, hit a guy," shrugged the Missouri product, who is Showing Me, You and a Bengals defense that tied a club record of eight sacks in the 14-10 loss. The only time the Bengals had eight sacks was in another 14-10 loss, in Pittsburgh in 1994, and that galled Smith.
"We gave up 14 points and today that was too many," said Smith of a defense that has glittered in the five-game losing streak. "What I'm finding out is in the NFL, you have to win and we're not getting the job done."
Smith is now a sack away from the $2.5 million hit, and it won't be for breaking James Francis' club rookie record of eight sacks. His 8.5 sacks will give him $2.5 million over the next five seasons at $500,000 per pop, which is known as hitting an escalator.
"Whatever," said Smith of the magic number that was hashed out over a 51-day holdout for the club's first-round pick.
Smith wasn't the only one cranking milestones. Reinard Wilson, Smith's fellow end in the pass-rush package, had a sack to tie his career-high with six. Tackle Tony Williams had his second two-sack game in three weeks. End Vaughn Booker had his first full sack in two seasons as a Bengal. And Cincinnati is on pace for its first 50-sack season ever with 51, which would break the 1976 club record of 46.
"We knew coming into the game that we were going to be playing a lot of nickel (defense because) they were going to be throwing the ball all day," Smith said. "We knew we were going to stay in the game
(if we did that) or beat them, which we didn't do. We got to get some pressures and some hits on them and we did that, but, bottom line, we didn't come out of here with a win (today)."
The Jaguars, who are without their Pro Bowl left tackle Tony Boselli and are playing rookie Mo Williams at right tackle, tried maximum pass protection by "chipping." That is, keeping in their running backs to help Williams and left tackle Todd Fordham, a street free agent signed in October, to block the ends. Smith & Co. eventually solved the backs' technique of cut blocks at their feet.
"They (isolated) Fordham and Justin on an island and part of the reason was Justin was running down the quarterback when he was scrambling in the backfield and with his speed, he's hard to contain," said Bengals defensive tackle Oliver Gibson of the Jags getting away from chipping. "It's hard to chip for such a mobile quarterback. He creates a lot of problems for his own line because he's off running around at a moment's notice."
But Smith left the field with a huge amount of respect for the man he sacked all day. With his finger wrapped by two bloody bandages, Jags quarterback Mark Brunell threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Keenan McCardell early in the fourth quarter after banging his hand on cornerback Mark Roman's facemask.
"His hand was shaking and he couldn't stop it," Jags tight end Kyle Brady said. "Blood was coming out everywhere. Then he jumps back in there. He's as tough as anybody out there."
Smith said, "He's a tough guy. I really appreciate what he does on the field."
Smith also appreciates the toughness of his own teammates.
"That's what I like," Smith said. "It's a competitive group. Great leaders in linebackers over there. "It's a shame we can't get more wins."
Middle linebacker Brian Simmons felt the same way about the Bengals' first three-sack game since left outside linebacker Steve Foley did it against the Ravens in 1999.
" (Smith) played a great game today and that's what he's going to bring," Simmons said. " He's just going to get better as time goes on and I think today was just a little sample of what he can be like consistently, but you know, right now it's about winning and losing and we're not winning."
The five sacks in the past two weeks validates Smith's belief you never know, how when and who'll you get your sacks against.
"If you keep going hard every play," Smith said, "good things are going to keep coming. That's the key. Keep coming."