Spikes in ESPN Zone

9-24-01, 7:45 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals and Takeo Spikes are trying to get noticed.

Consider it done after Sunday's 21-10 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens in which Spikes merely returned an Elvis Grbac pass in the flat for 66 yards and a touchdown, batted another pass in the end zone that led to an interception, and finished second on the team in tackles with six.

"I've seen basketball players, Michael Jordan for instance, against the Trail Blazers, get into a zone," said Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna. "Or Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire seem to get into a zone where everytime they get up they hit a homer. Takeo was unbelievable today.

"That play he made, he almost made the same play on me in the two-minute drill in practice Friday," Kitna said. "I couldn't believe it. I tried to throw it up over top of him and then he makes the exact same play. That was huge. . .I've never seen a football player be in a zone like that. It seemed like he was making every play."

After the game, Spikes made no bones about making a beeline for the 7 p.m. ESPN highlights, a place the Bengals have rarely been in his previous three years at 11-37.

Grbac, the object of Spikes' scorn this week for opting for Baltimore instead of the Bengals in free agency, noticed because he said of Spikes, "He can say whatever he wants, but he has to come to Baltimore, too."

And if Spikes logged on to ESPN.com, he'll see that analyst Tom Jackson made

him the Defensive Player of the Week, that the Bengals are his Surprise of the Week, and he says that either the Bengals or Chargers (both 2-0 for their game next week in San Diego) could go to the playoffs if the 12-team format stays in place.

And it looks like it could because the NFL is toying with moving the Super Bowl back a week.

All of which will surprise right tackle Willie Anderson, who swears ESPN's favorite team this year is San Diego.

"Chris Berman, Tom Jackson, listen to them tonight," Anderson said. "They're going with the Diego."

There have been times when Anderson and Spikes have phoned each other during the ESPN highlights and vent their frustration at being the most obscure team in the league.

That's why Anderson was so happy it was Spikes whom led this Sunday's highlights. While Spikes lay in the end zone under a pile of celebration, Anderson said he told him that would get him the exposure now.

"I want him to be one of the top players at his position, make the Pro Bowl, get the big contract," Anderson said. "I'm cheering for him."

Spikes clearly wasn't cheering for Grbac, although he didn't he think he roughed him on a play that gave the Ravens a chance to go up 10-0 late in the first half. But he did admit he held Ravens receiver Travis Taylor at the goal line a few plays later on third down to prevent an "easy," touchdown. He then atoned for the mistakes by tipping the pass.

Meanwhile, Spikes tipped his hat to Kitna and pays no attention to the critics whom ripped the Bengals for entrusting him with the Bengals' offense.

"As long as we have somebody who can give us more than 76 yards passing," said Spikes, referring to last year's last-place showing in NFL pass offense, "and makes the plays that we need to win."

Defensive end Reinard Wilson should get an assist on the touchdown. Wilson was in Grbac's face and drilled him as he released the ball. And Spikes showed off his athleticism by tipping the ball to himself as Grbac tried to launch it over him to tight end Shannon Sharpe.

The play left head coach Dick LeBeau shaking his head. He has seen Spikes do that type of thing in practice all the time and has been razzing him about "doing it for me on Sunday."

But the day was bittersweet for Spikes, the kind of special day in which it turned out he shared with middle linebacker Brian Simmons on the cover of the game program.

Spikes doubted his father, Jim Spikes, knew what he had done after watching the game back in Sandersville, Ga. Jim Spikes, battling brain cancer, hasn't been very responsive of late. But his son held out hope.

"My mother will tell him and explain it to him and he'll be bubbling inside," Spikes said.

Which made the patriotic pre-game ceremony all the more poignant for him.

"There were definitely a lot of things going through my mind," Spikes said.

**

HAPPY BOSS:** Bengals President Mike Brown called Sunday's win "the biggest we've had in quite a few years," as the Bengals beat a Super Bowl champion for the time since taking down the Giants in 1991.

With the NFL lifting the local TV blackout, Brown said his team may have won over some fans with the upset.

"I hope they saw the game because it was exciting and fun to watch," Brown said. "And certainly the pre-game ceremonies were memorable."

Brown wasn't surprised that attendance was 49,632, the lowest in the 10 games at the new stadium.

"Things pretty much shut down here and around the league," said Brown of sales after Sept. 11. "Like my father used to say. I'd rather win in front of 20,000 than lose in front of 80,000."

HIGH EMOTIONS: Several players on both sides could be seen fighting emotion during pre-game ceremonies that featured Bon Jovi singing "God Bless America," accompanied by the Manhattan fire and police departments.

"It's the first time I've been at a large, public gathering (that was a memorial for the attack victims and rescuers)," said Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna. "I was surprised at how I choked up."

**

THIS AND THAT:** Who will get game balls on Monday? Running back Corey Dillon said the defense should get one. Takeo Spikes will probably get one, and maybe outside linebacker Brian Simmons with an interception and a sack. On offense, the line could get one, as well as quarterback Jon Kitna for throwing a touchdown and running for another. Receiver Ron Dugans may get one for his work on special teams. . .

Head coach Dick LeBeau emphasized the team contribution by pointing to linebacker Canute Curtis' strip of Patrick Johnson on the opening kickoff of the second half. LeBeau noted how safety Darryl Williams turned Johnson (playing in place of injured Jermaine Lewis) into Curtis. . .

Williams (foot) is questionable for next Sunday, as is linebacker Riall Johnson and cornerback Rodney Heath (knee). Curtis (calf) and tight end Tony McGee (thigh) are probable.

MEMORABLE DEBUT: Justin Smith never did get a good look at 6-8, 340-pound Ravens Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden .

"I don't try to pay attention to how big he was," Smith said Sunday. "I just try to look at one leg. . .Concentrate on one leg. If I'm looking at him, I might get intimidated."

But the 6-4, 270-pound Smith didn't blink in his NFL debut. He rotated in and out of the lineup at right end with what looked to be every other series with Reinard Wilson and drew praise from his head coach and teammates.

" I was proud of Justin," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "He didn't cow

down to Ogden. . .He kept coming. He got some good pressure on the quarterback."

In fact, Smith was one of the guys who helped knock Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac out of the game for a play. He didn't get a sack, but he hit Grbac a few times just after he got rid of the ball. On one package, he also lined up as a middle linebacker.

"I hit him a couple of times, but he just never had the ball when I hit him," Smith said. "Now the thing is to hit the quarterback when he's got the ball. That's my next plan. Football is football. It's a step up, definitely. I felt like I made the transition OK."

Smith checked in on the second series of the game, just 15 days after ending his 51-day holdout and only a couple of practices in pads. But like head coach Dick LeBeau said, "He flashed a few times out there." Smith had two tackles and impressed some on the Bengals' sidelines by bullrushing on some plays and creasing the pocket.

"He's good," Smith said of Ogden. "I never got dominated. Maybe I did, but I don't think I did. It doesn't matter who it is or what accolades they carry with them. . .The only good thing about it is I'm not going to go up against anybody much better than him."

Smith, who also played some special teams, did force Ogden into a holding penalty on running back Terry Allen's 19-yard run that would have put the ball on the Bengals 3 in the third quarter. But the Ravens ended up punting.

"I'll remember winning the game," Smith said. "You get caught up in the game and there's not time to remember anything."

**

HAWKINS SAVORS MOMENT:** Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins broke a 34-game drought without an interception in the fourth quarter Sunday when he picked off a tipped ball and promised more.

That feels wonderful," said Hawkins, whose last interception came nearly three years ago in the next-to-last game of his rookie year on Dec. 20, 1998. "I told you in camp and there is going to be more. Plenty more. It's going to be a big year for our team and a big year for me and all the glory goes to God."

Hawkins re-committed to his faith over the offseason, but when he said, "What a difference a year makes," he was talking about the 360-degree swing from 364 days ago when the Ravens beat the Bengals, 37-0.

But he also could have been talking about himself

when he said the defense was more focused and intense than the last time the teams met, when Hawkins and the secondary got burned for three Trent Dilfer touchdown passes. It was Hawkins the Ravens picked on to end their five-game streak without a touchdown back in their 27-7 win at PBS on Nov. 5.

"We kept talking to each other. We kept lifting each other up," Hawkins said. "We didn't play perfect, but the guys made plays when they had to. We talked about it all week long. We knew they were good. Everybody knows their defense is superb, one of the tops in the league. We wanted to come out and prove we can play in this league and not just get by. . .To prove we're not a pretender."

Hawkins said the pass rush is much improved this season, but it's a team thing.

"On the plays there wasn't a rush, somebody knocked down a pass or picked it off," Hawkins said. "And when the coverage wasn't good, someone was in the quarterback's face and that's what has to happen."

Hawkins said the only thing better would have been a playoff win, but he said, "it was a playoff atmosphere."

He also thought it was a huge emotional lift for his unit. Hawkins said when the Bengals stopped the Ravens on a 17-play drive at the end of the first half on middle linebacker Brian Simmons' interception, it was "monumental. That shifted the momentum. We came out in the second (half) and picked up where we left off.

"We've got a bunch of guys who are playmakers," Hawkins said. "That come from big-time college programs, come from other teams. These guys can play."

LEBEAU LAUDED: A year ago Monday, the Bengals suffered what may have been the lowest point in their franchise in a 37-0 loss to these Ravens. Dick LeBeau took over as coach the next day and his philosophy and his effectiveness was never clearer after Sunday's win:

Take it a play at a time (the Bengals overcame a fumbled punt and eight penalties); don't turn it over (one fumble); stay close into the fourth quarter (they led 14-3 at the start of the fourth after trailing 3-0); and play good defense (the only TD they allowed was on a 17-yard drive).

Right tackle Willie Anderson said pretty much the difference is coaching.

"You guys remember," said Anderson to the media who remember the bad old days. "It was terrible. You

could go down the line and name guys who just blatantly quit in a game or (didn't) really care in practice. A lot of it had to do with the coaches. The coaches let it go on. LeBeau doesn't allow that. You don't want to disappoint him in a manner of not being professional."

Even the guys who are here in their first year have noticed.

"It's all what Coach LeBeau told us from the first day of minicamp," Kitna said. "He's talked about staying in games and believing."

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