10-15-01, 1:35 a.m.
Updated: 10-15-01, 12:20 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
His mother told him to be quiet and to stop his hollering at the television set.
"They can't hear you," she told him.
But Bengals defensive captain Takeo Spikes thought his teammates could hear him Sunday loud and clear for all 60 minutes all the way from Sandersville, Ga.
"They played great, didn't they?" asked Spikes Monday morning, savoring the 24-14 win over the Browns. "That was big. The tough thing is the only person I ever cared about coming to my games was my father. And then he couldn't be there and I couldn't be there and it hurt to watch. But I felt so good to see them play with so much emotion."
Spikes never, ever thought he would be healthy and be hundreds of miles away from his teammates when they played a game. He had started all 52 of his NFL games until his father died Friday and when he left for home he had in the back of his mind that he might come back for the game and then return for Tuesday's funeral.
But after getting home and seeing his mother and talking with head coach Dick LeBeau and defensive coordinator Mark Duffner, there was only one call to make.
"Once I got back in this environment and saw how much she needed me around, I had to stay," Spikes said. "The coaches told me they supported me 100 percent no matter what I decided to do and that I was the only guy that could make the decision."
Ten months after the doctors found a brain tumor in the father who had helped give his son the Japanese name of "great warrior," the last battle had been fought.
Defensive tackle Oliver Gibson said they were just trying to give their emotional leader a smile and they did.
Spikes is quite certain that Adrian Ross heard him in the first quarter. With Spikes gone, Ross got the 16th start of his career in a week he missed the first two days of practice with a sore quadricep.
When Ross didn't get up after a play early in the game, Spikes yelled at the TV.
"I was saying, 'C'mon Adrian. You're all right. Get up. Walk it off. It doesn't hurt.' And then he kind of bounced up quick like he heard me and when he was going off the field it was like he was saying, 'It's OK Spikes. I'll be back. It's just a little nick.'"
The offense thrilled Spikes and he said running back Corey Dillon "ran like hell. CD was just unbelievable." And he praised Ross as the Bengals stuffed Cleveland on 40 yards rushing seven days after allowing 274 on the ground to the Steelers.
"They were going after him," Spikes said, "They saw what Pittsburgh and San Diego did. They knew I wasn't there and they kept trying to run it at him. But he was there."
Spikes' favorite play came early, when fellow outside linebacker Steve Foley flew in from the strong side to stop a run.
"They had them down deep and Foley made the play and when he got up, he was doing some shaking," Spikes said. "When I saw Foley reacting like that with all that enthusiasm and the crowd getting into it, that was big, man."
Told he was getting a game ball from Sunday's victory and that some of his teammates planned to go to Jimmie Spikes' funeral on their day off, Spikes said it meant everything.
"The fact that those guys would come all this way and support me like that is a great feeling he," he said.
Spikes had messaged Ross on his two-way Friday night to tell him the news.
"Then he messaged me back and told me to play my butt off for him," Ross said Sunday. "I think he had confidence in me and that made it a little easier for him. He knows how I play. You guys know I'm an emotional player."
With their defensive captain/emotional leader grieving but watching, everybody on the Bengals' defense was an emotional player in the economical over the Browns. Spikes' right-hand man, middle linebacker Brian Simmons, said they were back to flying around like they did in the first two games and the result was a decisive outing in which:
__The Browns' only two third-down conversions came in the fourth quarter against a scheme Duffner told his player was more simplified.
_Cleveland's longest drive until the final 1:48 was 35 yards.
_A Bengals' run defense that allowed an average of 204 yards the past two weeks allowed Cleveland just 40.
_In rookie defensive end Justin Smith's coming out party, the No. 1 pick drilled Browns quarterback Tim Couch and his AFC-best 106 fourth-quarter passing rating with a key 12-yard sack early in the last quarter and then killed their last meaningful drive when he forced a holding penalty a play later.
"We definitely didn't want to let Takeo down," Gibson said. "We were trying to give him something to smile about. It's something I went through my rookie year. I know how hard it is. I know he smiled for a little while. I know we took his mind off his troubles for a little bit. You couldn't help but think of him. He's our guy. Our heart."
JoJuan Armour, who made his first NFL start at strong safety, saw the heart torn out of his defense at the
unit's Friday night dinner at Benihana. Spikes got a call, briefly went outside and came back with the bad news. When Spikes said he couldn't play Sunday, Simmons thought he was joking until he studied his face.
"Takeo's one of our leaders and that's where that extra boost came from," Armour said. "He gets a game ball for that. Where would we be without him?"
There was no question Spikes wouldn't play. If anyone understood, it was Bengals President Mike Brown. The only Bengals' game he ever missed came 10 years ago when he chose to stay with his ailing father.
"Takeo chose to be with his family today and we certainly understand that. "Families are more important than football," Brown said.
Simmons said, "I think every player in here would have made the same decision. And if he were here, would he have been in it mentally? It was the only thing to do."
Right tackle Willie Anderson, Spikes' fellow captain, spoke to him Saturday night while they watched their Auburn alma mater upset Florida.
"It killed him not to be here," Anderson said. "With his family, it's the same thing with his team. His family depends on him for strength so much. He just couldn't leave. I know it's killing him to watch. He told me he was going to watch. It's a great win for him. I know he's tickled pink right now that we won."
As for the game ball, "there will be some more game balls," LeBeau said. "But No. 51 gets one for sure."
Smith has a legitimate chance to get his first one. The Browns just couldn't block him once the Bengals had the lead. As if to underscore the emotion of the day, Smith was still fuming about 20 minutes after the game about the Browns' constant holding.
"I was getting the calls. I got two holding calls," Smith said. "I'm glad to get the calls, but I had the sack. But we won, that's all that matters. . . .This one was for Takeo."
It's not exactly the way Duffner drew it up. Spikes, missing the first start in his 52-game career, and tackle Tony Williams (foot) were inactive. Starting left cornerback Rodney Heath (torn hamstring) went out probably for the year in the first quarter. Armour, who played in place of benched free safety Chris Carter, ended up playing about 70 snaps between base defense, nickel package and all the special teams.
"I could sleep right through Tuesday right now," Armour said. "The big thing today was that we didn't make a lot of mental mistakes like we did the past couple of weeks. We were lined up right and executed more consistently."
Smith had a sack, cornerback Mark Roman had a sack, and the team had a sack when Couch and running back James Jackson collided on a handoff and Bengals tackle Glen Steele recovered . They now have 13 sacks in five games, already half of last year's AFC-low 26.
"We didn't blitz any more than we usually do," Simmons said. "The line did a good job of just pressuring on their own, which you need. We didn't get as many sacks as we probably wanted, but we hit him. Sometimes that's better than getting the sack."
LeBeau said Spikes figures to be back to practice Wednesday.
"I thought about Takeo before the game and I thought about him during the game," Gibson said. "Especially when we broke the huddle because he's always yapping at us."
Even the guys on offense were thinking about him Sunday.
"(I was) thinking (to myself) is he back (at) home watching the game, what's he thinking and I was watching the defense and how excited they were," said quarterback Jon Kitna. "They played a great game and they were missing their emotional leader. I really hoped that he was enjoying the game back at home in the third quarter and the start of the fourth quarter."