Spikes not 100 percent

9-9-02, 5:30 a.m. Updated:
9-9-02, 6:25 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals are going to have to live with some things after the Opening Day disaster.

There are now going to be questions about conditioning dogging the Bengals as they prepare for next Sunday's game in Cleveland. And while head coach Dick LeBeau dodged the question, he met the issue when he said he would have the team run more in practice.

"Did you see them lying on the ground?" asked Chargers tight end Stephen Alexander. "They didn't know if they wanted to play or go to the sideline, every single one of them, all their front guys. The D-line and linebackers, they're on the ground, looking around. 'Nah, let's shut it down.' They were terrible."

And one of the other things is that right outside linebacker Takeo Spikes is less than 100 percent after missing all but 12 plays of the preseason with a torn pectoral muscle. He had a game-high 10 tackles (eight solos), but admitted

after the game that the shoulder doesn't feel quite right.

"It's just something I'm going to have to deal with until it gets stronger," Spikes said. "Right now it's weak and it gets weaker and weaker during the game. The longer you're out there, the more you sweat, the more water you lose, it tightens up and cramps. I have to deal with it."

But it is a tough injury for a guy who makes a living using his arms and hands to get off blocks and turn six-yard gains into two-yard gains.

"Its hard to reach out and grab and do certain things," Spikes said. "It's just another injury to play through. It's nothing spectacular."

Spikes, who has never missed a game because of injury, compared it to playing much of the 2000 season with a hip flexor/groin injury. This year, "at least I can run."

But it's the least preparation he's ever had for a season opener. After injuring his shoulder sacking Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe on the preseason's 12th play, Spikes didn't play at all in a game until Sunday. He has participated in practices for pretty much the past three weeks.

"I'll play through it," he said.

As for the conditioning question, are the Bengals out of shape? Did they get outworked by Marty Ball?

"It may seem that way, but it was a hot day," said defensive tackle Oliver Gibson after his unit was on the field for nearly 38 minutes in 90-degree temperatures. "Fatigue was a factor. I went down because I got hit in the (groin). That didn't have anything to do with the fact that we weren't playing well.

"It may seem like that, but only people who don't understand football start looking for excuses," Gibson said. "That wasn't because our morale was down. We were on the field. When your body breaks down, muscle starts to break down. They say fatigue makes cowards of us all. We weren't cowards, but we were breaking down physically. I guarantee you we'll have 98 percent of our defense up and ready to rock next week against Cleveland."

**

DILLON STUFFED:** Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon had 10 yards on nine carries, one yard better than his career-low for a full game since he became a starter. That was the nine yards against the Ravens in Bruce Coslet's last game as coach in 2000.

For a local note, it's his fewest carries in a home game since his rookie year, when he carried five times against the Steelers in spelling Ki-Jana Carter off the bench. It's also his fewest carries since he got hurt in two road games in 1999.

"I'm not going to say anything off the wall," Dillon said. "You're going to have to go somewhere else. I'm not pointing fingers. We just didn't play well.

"What do you want me to say?" Dillon asked. "All you can say is they beat us."

Asked if the Chargers surprised them on defense, Dillon said, "We played them last year." In three games against San Diego since '99, Dillon has just 93 yards on 36 carries.

In fact, that 34-7 loss to the Chargers in head coach Mike Riley's debut on Sept. 19, 1999, was the Bengals' worst loss in a home opener until the Chargers gave Marty Schottenheimer his first win by 28 points Sunday.

"I know I'm going to go home and do some soul searching," Dillon said. "Matter of fact, I won't try and figure out what happened. I'm not going to fry my brain over it. Bottom line is get it squared away by Wednesday and go to Cleveland to get it done."

SCREENS AND DRAWS: Wide receiver Danny Farmer ran a crossing pattern from right to left, caught the ball over the middle, and took off for 51 yards down the left sideline. It was the Bengals' first 50-plus throw in 34 games, since Jeff Blake hit Darnay Scott for a touchdown in Cinergy Field's last football game on Dec. 12, 1999. . .

It was the first time the Bengals failed to score a touchdown in a home opener since rookie Doug Pelfrey hit two field goals in a 9-6 loss to the Colts Sept. 12, 1993. . .

Neil Rackers' career-long 54-yard field goal with 5:43 left in the game is the second longest in club history, tying Pelfrey's shot at the gun that beat the Eagles on Christmas Eve, 1994. Chris Bahr has the longest, a 55-yarder in 1979 against Houston. . .

This is the kind of day it was. Backup running back Brandon Bennett twisted his ankle on a nice nine-yard run he got mainly on his own. It was the longest run by a back all day, but he had to leave the game for good. He's probable for Cleveland, as is SS JoJuan Armour (ankle) and LOLB Canute Curtis (knee).

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