Starry Bengals deliver Red, White and Blue upset

9-23-01, 4:45 p.m.

Updated: 9-23-01, 8:10 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

After three seasons of watching everybody else on the Sunday night highlights but himself and his Bengals, Takeo Spikes took the teleprompter into his own hands against the Ravens.

Spikes' 66-yard interception return for a touchdown with 6:04 left in the game turned out to be the highlight play during a highlight day the Bengals celebrated their biggest win in more than a decade with an old-fashioned 21-10 red-white-and-blue American upset at flag festooned Paul Brown Stadium.

"I just fell down on the ground," said Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins after he hit the turf at the end of the game. "I've never been so happy and so tired at the same time here."

That's because guys like Spikes, Hawkins and the other players who began their careers in Cincinnati after 1995 have never been 2-0.

"I'm on my high horse right now," said wide receiver Darnay Scott, who arrived in 1994. "It feels damn good. The view from my high horse is wonderful."

Spikes turned out to be the horse the Bengals rode.

"I just can't wait to go see myself at 7 o'clock on Chris Berman's highlights," said Spikes of ESPN's weekly Sunday night feature.

"Berman, he doesn't really like the Bengals," Spikes said. "I want to go and see what he has to say. That's exciting man. (His teammates aren't) going to wait until 7 o'clock. They plan to go to that late game and catch halftime."

The Bengals finally clawed onto the national stage with a defense that forced six turnovers to produce all their points in ending Baltimore's NFL-best 12-game winning streak before an intimate but raucous crowd of 49,632, the smallest crowd in the 10 games at PBS.

But with the NFL lifting the local TV blackout, Greater Cincinnati saw the Bengals go to 2-0 for the first time since 1995, beat Baltimore for the first since 1997, and record two September home victories for the first time since the last playoff year of 1990.

"Do you believe now, Cincinnati?" Spikes asked.

Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac probably does. The man who decided to sign with the Ravens instead of the Bengals back in March threw three interceptions and fumbled on the goal line on the last play of the game as strong safety Cory Hall grabbed the ball and ran 73 yards and a dozen years into history.

The last time the Bengals had six turnovers, they beat the Chiefs, 21-17, in Kansas City Oct. 1, 1989.

"Absolutely," said a smiling Spikes, when asked if the victory was sweeter because they beat Grbac.

The win also validated, at least for now, what Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau started building nearly a year to the day after the Ravens' 37-0 victory in Baltimore on Sept. 24, 2000. That pathetic display drove head coach Bruce Coslet to resign and the team to wonder.

"I don't think anyone on this team felt like an NFL ballplayer. I know I didn't," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "They really embarrassed us. . .To get beat 37-0 and have the coach quit, it was hell around here. But we knew in our heart we were a different ballclub."

Since Corey Dillon broke the NFL rushing record against Denver last year, LeBeau has the Bengals 6-6. They also have a winning record at home under LeBeau at 5-4.

"Dick LeBeau has got them believing," said Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe, the Bengals' biggest critic. "In twelve years in the league, that's as good as I've seen a Cincinnati team look from top to bottom."

Spikes went coast-to-coast for his first NFL touchdown when Grbac tried

to hit Sharpe on first-and-10 from the Bengals 27 and Cincinnati clinging to a 14-10 lead.

Spikes said the Bengals were in man coverage, but he didn't "hug," the running back out of the backfield. Instead, he stayed in a zone, which he thinks caught Grbac by surprise. Grbac didn't get any air under the ball and Spikes tipped it to himself.

He said he couldn't help looking at himself on the big screen as he ran to the end zone, and it's a good thing. The board showed tight end John Jones chasing him, so he made a move as they rolled into the end zone together.

That got the crowd to start roaring the derisive chant of "El--vis, El--vis," as the Bengals' defense prepared to finish off a game they forced Grbac (63) and Randall Cunningham (1) to throw a Baltimore-record 64 passes while holding the Ravens to 64 yards rushing.

But the biggest defensive play of the day came with the Ravens leading, 3-0, with 1:35 left in the second quarter. Their 17-play drive got stymied in the Bengals' end zone when middle linebacker Brian Simmons got the Bengals' first turnover of the season on a tipped pass and brought it out to the Bengals 3.

The Bengals then got rescued a few plays later when rookie punter Nick Harris drove a 51-yarder while standing in the back of the end zone. Defensive end Reinard Wilson and tackle Glen Steele then combined to sack Grbac to end the half and set the tone for the second half.

"That shifted the momentum right there," Hawkins said. "Then we came out and picked up where we left off."

Spikes said, "If you want to sum up this defense, that's what you look at."

Thanks to Spikes, the Ravens had eight snaps from inside the Bengals 10. He was called for roughing Grbac and then for holding receiver Travis Taylor on a third-down pass.

But Spikes came back to help tip the pass that eventually ended up with Simmons. Cornerback Rodney Heath also got a hand on it before Hall volleyball spiked it to the ground.

"But I was lucky enough to be standing there," Simmons said.

"It looked like he was going to the weak-side (receiver), either the receiver or the tight end," Hall said. "He tried to fit it in there."

The Ravens trailed 14-10 with 8:10 left in the game when Bengals kicker Neil Rackers missed his third-field goal try of the game on a 45-yarder.

The Ravens made a Bengals' turnover hurt in the third quarter when Peter Warrick dropped a punt at his own 17 and Grbac threw a two-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Johnson early in the fourth quarter to make it 14-10.

But the Bengals' defense, last in the AFC at producing 21 turnovers last year, stunned the Ravens by forcing two turnovers in the first three minutes of the second half and translated them into touchdowns to take a 14-3 lead at the end of the third quarter.

And it could have been more, but the Bengals couldn't cash Darnay Scott's 41-yard catch when Rackers pushed a 39-yard field goal try to the right in the last minute of the third quarter.

And it could have been even more. Scott actually broke the 41-yarder for a touchdown, but when the celebration hug looked up field, they saw the play being waved back because Scott stepped on the sideline as he cut back to the middle of the field.

The Bengals, who came into the second half 0-for-6 on third down, picked up their first three conversions on the drives of 18 and 33 yards.

Quarterback Jon Kitna ended the first drive by hitting running back Corey Dillon on a one-yard pass off a fake handoff to sweeping wide receiver Peter Warrick and finished off the second by scoring on a two-yard quarterback draw.

Bengals linebacker Canute Curtis stripped Patrick Johnson of the ball
on the opening kickoff and the Bengals overcame a holding call on Warrick to get the score.

Then the Bengals, who had just one touchdown against the Ravens in the last three meetings, scored minutes later when linebacker Steve Foley dislodged tight end Todd Heap from the ball and it was recovered by Heath at the Baltimore 33.

Kitna then hit Warrick on a six-yard roll-out pass to convert a third-and-four and later hit tight end Marco Battaglia for 17 more yards to set up his touchdown.

Dillon had just 57 yards on 18 carries against a Raven defense that hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher since 1998. But Kitna got the ball to the people he needed, hitting 19 of 30 passes for 154 yards.

The Bengals made clear their intentions right away against Baltimore's record-setting defense.

They passed on their first six plays of the game and seven times on their first nine in an effort to get the Ravens off Dillon's back.

The ploy began to work on the series after the Ravens took a 3-0 lead on Matt Stover's 38-yard field goal with just under five minutes left in the first quarter.

With the Bengals running Dillon out of spread formations, the Ravens had trouble stopping him in their pass packages and he racked up 33 yards on his first five carries against a defense that gave him just 32 yards in two games last season.

And with Kitna's 13-yard throw to Scott and his flip to fullback Lorezo Neal, the Bengals had the ball on the Baltimore 21.

But on a first-down pass, outside linebacker Jamie
Sharper blitzed untouched and sacked Kitna to kill the touchdown drive. Then the Bengals got nothing out of it as Rackers missed his first field goal of the season when he hooked a 43-yard field-goal attempt to the left.

Yet Kitna would be sacked only one more time and the Cincinnati defense gave the Ravens nothing Especially early. And it was a good thing because Chris McAlister returned a punt 24 yards.

But the Bengals were up to it. Grbac hit seven receivers on his first seven throws in the game's first 18 minutes, but the Bengals stopped him on four of his first five third-down tries. Foley blitzed him out of the pocket on one third down and a blitz by Spikes forced the Ravens to go for Stover's field goal.

The Bengals took the field under Super Bowl conditions and it just wasn't because they were playing the reigning Super Bowl champion Ravens.

Fans were greeted by bomb-sniffing dogs at the gates while an expanded force of city and county police officers roamed PBS in beefed-up security measures as the NFL got back to work for the first time since Sept. 11.

Victims of the attacks and heroes of the rescues were honored in a patriotic pre-game ceremony as fans chanted "USA, USA." The highlight was Bon Jovi's singing of "God Bless America" on the end-zone scoreboards as he was accompanied by the Manhattan police and fire departments.

The Bengals also knew it was a special day. After the starting defense was introduced, several Bengals sprinted into the end zone opposite their locker room to implore the fans. Some then knelt on one knee in the end zone.

The Bengals caught a break before the game when the Ravens relegated dangerous punt returner Jermaine Lewis to the sidelines with an injury.

Lewis, who set an NFL record last season with a 16.1-yard average, was on the inactive list.

For the second straight game, so were Bengals' receivers Danny Farmer and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. That may have been a slight surprise because that left Cincinnati with just four wide receivers in a game the Bengals figured to try some three- and four-receiver sets.

With rookie defensive end Justin Smith ready for his first NFL action Sunday, defensive end Jevon Langford was also inactive. Smith came off the bench to relieve Wilson at right end and he got work in the base defense as well as on passing downs in the line's rotation.

Smith drew praise for being active and getting to Grbac a few times as he threw the ball. He had two tackles in his debut.

"Now the next step is getting there before he throws the ball," Smith said.

Left end Vaughn Booker played pretty much on passing downs with his bruised thigh, which meant Bernard Whittington ended up starting for him and played a lot in Booker's spot in the base defense.

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