BY GEOFF HOBSON
ATLANTA _ For a preseason game, Bengals defensive captain Takeo Spikes had a jumble of emotions worthy of the playoffs after losing, 31-16, to the Falcons Friday night.
Spikes played well in his return home to the Georgia Dome, spearheading a suffocating run defense that shut down his good friend and Pro Bowl running back Jamal Anderson. But it was also his seventh straight loss in the preseason with the Bengals, and the 26th time in 34 games of any kind Spikes has lost since coming into the NFL.
And it's getting to him.
"I'm tired of going out there and beating up my body week in and week out and getting no results at all," Spikes said. "It seems like you get no results at all. Somebody's got to do something. It's a lack of getting mentally ready to play for four quarters. I'm tired. I've been saying the same thing for three years."
But Spikes, a right outside linebacker, had to admit the first defense held up pretty well. By the time they got off the field midway through the second quarter, the Bengals had a 6-3 lead after stifling Anderson in his first game back since last season's reconstructive knee surgery. Spikes followed through on a pledge he made to Anderson in a phone call earlier in the day and stuffed him for no gain on the Falcons' first play.
"I told him I was going to be on him," said Spikes, who also cut down Anderson one-on-one after a pass in the middle of the field six yards shy of a first down and forcing a field goal. "I'm happy for him he had a chance to come back and get the cobwebs off."
Spikes and Anderson have the same agent Jim Sims and also have a mutal friend who is a disc jockey on one of Atlanta's top radio stations. They had been talking stuff all week to each other and Spikes won this one. Anderson had no yards on five carries with his longest run a one-yarder.
But Spikes was more concerned about how the backups let go of a 16-10 lead with 11 minutes left in the game.
"I could get up here and say we played solid," Spikes said. "That the first- and second team played pretty solid. It's not like that. Any given day during the season, somebody could go out and you've got to depend on them. When I'm out of the game, I'm always on the sidelines cheering for these guys because we want them to get better."
Still, Spikes was satisfied the first group was stingy and didn't repeat what happened last week in Buffalo, when the Bills took the opening kickoff and went six plays for a touchdown. Before the Falcons scored their first touchdown on a blown coverage by the backup secondary midway through the second quarter, the first Bengals' defense forced two punts, got an interception from free safety Darryl Williams and held the Falcons to a field goal inside the red zone.
"But everything they got, we gave them," Spikes said. "You can't do that and be a championship team."
COSLET MULLING:** Coach Bruce Coslet is pleased with backup quarterback Scott Mitchell, a 10-year guy who does all the things a veteran is supposed to do. After hitting the two longest passes of the game for the Bengals last week, Mitchell scored the team's only touchdown Friday on a five-yard run. After watching Akili Smith throw seven straight incompletions, Coslet had an idea.
"That might be a situation in a regular-season game where I would put Mitchell in the game," Coslet said. "And see how it went. Maybe put Akili back. It's a situation that may occur. I hope it doesn't, but it very well could. Just put Mitchell in, settle everybody down, settle Akili down and maybe put Akili back in."
Smith could have settled himself down on the first play of the game if he led Warrick more on a 31-yard completion. Warrick fried cornerback Ray Buchanan in one-on-one coverage, but got dragged down from behind when he he had to turn and wait on Smith's throw. Smith's toughest throw was Jeff Blake's best - the long ball.
It was distance, not air," Coslet said. "PDub had to stop to catch it, but (Smith) got it up quick. If he put more air under it, the safety could help make a play. If it had a bit more distance, it would have been an interesting foot race. Buchanan was gaining on him, but if he didn't have to stop to catch the ball, it would have been interesting."
Smith apparently didn't get much help from his receivers Friday night. They played as young on the field as they are on paper. A couple of times, Smith was looking where the receivers should have been and didn't find anyone: "We got to see some real strange things that we didn't practice in practice," Coslet said. Four-year man James Hundon is the lone receiver with more than two years experience.
Also not helping Smith on his tough night were guards Brian DeMarco and Matt O'Dwyer. Coslet said tackles Willie Anderson and Rod Jones, "played all right. Our guards didn't play very well."
Backup left tackle John Jackson got high grades as he begins to absorb the Bengals' system, which Coslet says is numbered in exactly the opposite fashion of Jackson's old offenses in Pittsburgh and San Diego.
SEEING RED:** Smith was seeing red after the game. As in the red zone. In Buffalo last week, the Bengals scored just two touchdowns on six drives inside the Bills' 20-yard line. Friday night against the Falcons, Smith took the Bengals 17 plays and 86 yards duirng 8:47 of the second quarter and couldn't get past the Falcons 2.
"I don't know," Smith said. "I don't know if it's the right personnel group, or if it's a different scheme we have to approach or maybe we're just not executing. I know we have to continue to work on it."
Smith had second-and-6 from the Atlanta 7 when he was forced to call timeout after running back Sedrick Shaw failed to go in motion, and the offense didn't recover.
"It was so loud down there," Smith said. "I don't know if he didn't hear me or if I didn't say it right or what happened, but he didn't go in motion so I had to call a timeout because we needed to hit him on the back side. We had to regoup and call the same play again."
BEAN COUNTER: **Rookie cornerback Robert Bean continues to be around the ball. The fifth-rounder picked off Falcons backup quarterback Danny Kanell in the end zone early in the second half, a week after he had two passes defensed against the Bills and two weeks after he blocked an extra point in the intrasquad scrimmage.
"He was scrambling and I was staying with my man," Bean said. "When I saw him look away, I went to the ball." Bean couldn't find the ball with 6:41 left in the game and the Bengals leading, 16-10. Receiver Eugene Baker blew by him in one-on-one coverage for a 14-yard touchdown catch that ignited the Falcons' run of 21 straight points.
"I had good position on him," Bean said. "He threw it low. Once I looked up for the ball, he had it. I should have looked earlier and found the ball."
A pretty memorable night for the Atlanta-area product. Bean's coach at Lakeside High School in DeKalb County, Ga., brought the entire team to the game. "That's 90 (people) right there, plus family and friends," Bean said.
The officials ruled Bean's interception was downed at his own one-yard line, but Coslet thought it should have been spotted at the Bengals 20 and the club plans to turn the play into the NFL office.
"He was two yards in the end zone when he caught it and immediately got hit and fell forward," Coslet said. "We don't know if that's forward progress or if the tackler's momentum threw him out of the end zone."
THIS AND THAT:** Mitchell feigned offense when someone made a crack about his five-yard touchdown run on a quarterback draw that put the Bengals ahead, 16-10, with 11 minutes left in the game: "I've had several touchdown runs," said Mitchell, 32. He has 10, but hasn't run one in since 1997. "It was a run-pass option down there. I had the option to to throw, but with the man in motion, it was wide open." . . .Rookie receiver Ron Dugans made his debut with his healing hamstring and had two catches for 16 yards. . .An early injury report for next Saturday has safety Greg Myers (knee) out again and tight end Damian Vaugh n (Achilles) and cornerback Rodney Heath (shoulder) probable. . .Coslet wasted no time reminding his players of next Saturday's Paul Brown Stadium opener, telling them after Friday's game they must establish their home-field advantage right away. "The coaches will treat it differently, I know that," Coslet said.