Takeo Talk of Town (s)

12-13-01, 2:20 p.m.

Updated: 12-13-01, 7:40 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Takeo Spikes, the Bengals defensive captain averaging 11.5 tackles a game, is now all over the newspapers as well as the field.

Spikes has found himself on top of the trash talk heap that has taken over this week's Steelers-Ravens game in Baltimore.

Ravens Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis took exception to Steelers running back Jerome Bettis' observation in "Sports Illustrated," a few weeks back that Spikes is as good as Lewis, but doesn't get the recognition because he doesn't have the talent Lewis has around him.

"That's like saying, Dude, Where's My Car' is just as good asTitanic,' said Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe of Bettis' comparison. "At some point in time, you've got to be realistic. I don't mean no disrespect to Takeo, because Takeo Spikes is a great football player, but he's not Ray Lewis. Let's not fool ourselves."

And Thursday morning's headline in one of the nation's biggest papers, the "New York Daily News, bannered Sunday's Bengals-Jets game with, " Bengal loudmouth Spikes Jet set."

As his teammates read Internet printouts of the Baltimore-Pittsburgh verbal joust, they started calling Spikes, "Dude."

He played it down with the knowledge the Bengals go to Baltimore next week. But Spikes, who has always made a point of saying recognition is directly tied to wins and losses, is getting it now despite the Bengals 4-8 record.

"Playing in a small market, you don't get much (attention), but my name is floating around America, so I guess I must be doing something right," Spikes said. "My mind is on the Jets right now. I'm not worried about that. When time comes for next week, then I'll worry about next week. I must be doing something right. I'm not worried about it. It doesn't bother me."

But it bothered the heck out of Lewis, last year's Super Bowl

MVP, as the 8-4 Ravens meet the 10-2 Steelers in the game that could determine home field advantage in the playoffs.

"Jerome saying Takeo Spikes is better than me? Let's go find out," Lewis fired back. "They have to come here in three, four days regardless of what's coming out of their mouths. Tell him to tape that groin up and come see me at PSINet."

Bettis, who is supposed to play despite a groin injury, sensed Lewis was trying to pump up his team.

"I just said (Spikes) is as good an athlete as Ray Lewis, he just doesn't have the talent around him," Bettis said. "I'm trying to compliment another guy. So he brings that into a Steelers story? I guess they're jumping on anything right now."

Spikes earned a tabloid headline with comparatively tame comments in warning the Jets not to take the Bengals lightly. In Wednesday's conference call with the Jets media, Spikes was asked about the playoff guarantee Jets strong safety Victor Green made last week.

"That's the way he's supposed to look at it," Spikes said. "Coming from Takeo and the rest of the Bengals, we plan on having a lot of people sitting at home with us. Everybody is on edge. They can't lose two games, so to everybody who is talking it up pretty much wanting to play the Bengals, go ahead and sleep on it."

Spikes is starting to grind the spoilers' ax for a Bengals' team that is 4-8 with their next three games against teams fighting for the playoffs, such as the 7-5 Jets, or for home-field advantage, such as the 8-4 Ravens and 10-2 Steelers. Who knows what shape the 5-7 Titans will be in the Jan. 6 finale? "Misery loves company," Spikes said. "We mean to sit at home with a lot of other teams and look at it." Told Green didn't predict a win over Cincinnati, Spikes failed to be impressed. "Well, how do those guys think they're going to make the playoffs?" Spikes asked. "But don't sleep on it now. If you sleep on it, you're going be dreaming with us come January watching the playoff games on the weekend."

KITNA TO TRY: A Cincinnati hand specialist confirmed Thursday that quarterback Jon Kitna has no structural damage in the middle finger of his throwing hand and it is a low-grade sprain. After Dr. Peter Stern's morning exam, which included a nerve block, Kitna said the finger felt better than it did when he woke up and he's hoping to throw during Friday's practice. **

FOLEY QUESTIONABLE:** Outside linebacker Steve Foley left the practice field in a cart after aggravating what trainer Paul Sparling called a "low back disk herniation," and is questionable for Sunday. Sparling said the club discovered Foley's condition when he was a rookie and that he periodically tweaks it, like he did Thursday when he twisted it.

"Historically, he's missed only three or four days," Sparling said. "We'll see how it is tomorrow. He may or may not be able to go."

That's the same call on cornerback Artrell Hawkins (ankle) and center Rich Braham (shoulder). Hawkins has taken some snaps and continues to get evaluated. Braham has yet to work this week. **

TOP CORNERBACK SEARCH?:** The Bengals indicated Thursday that tapping a shut-down cornerback in the next draft is a possibility, but Bengals President Mike Brown said it's too soon until April to settle on a position in the first round. The Bengals did clear some room at the position Thursday when they waived Tom Carter, two years to the day the Bears

released him and the Bengals picked him up the next day.

The Bengals had to make the move once Carter's sprained knee healed, losing one of their locker-room leaders who headed the Bible study and served as the team's player representative to the NFL Players Association. Carter, 29, started 13 games for the Bengals, but none this year as the emergence of second-year players Robert Bean and Mark Roman and the potential of free-agent rookies Bo Jennings and Kevin Kaesviharn made Carter expendable. Plus, Rodney Heath returns off injured reserve next year.

"We should have a full complement, but it may be we're looking for a front-end guy at cornerback," Brown said. "Probably the only place that would be available would be in the draft. He would be a consideration for as at the time of the draft, but that's far away and we're not focused at all on that.

"We like our young guys," Brown said. "They're a fit for the future. They've played as well as we could have hoped. We're getting better play from our corners than a year ago."

Also waived Thursday was tackle Mike Doughty, who had been on the reserve/left squad list since Aug. 14 after walking out of training camp Aug. 6 when he didn't get a snap at left tackle in the pre-season opener.

WILLIE AGREES: Offensive captain Willie Anderson agrees with his opposite number on defense in the wake of the Ravens' verbal assault on Steelers running back Jerome Bettis for comparing Bengals outside linebacker Takeo Spikes to Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. Anderson says Spikes is right.

Worry about the Jets.

"We shouldn't be worried about what's going on in Baltimore and Pittsburgh," Anderson said. " We should be thinking about the Jets and not about what was said by some players about one of our players, a team we're playing next week. They're getting pumped up to play Jerome Bettis. This is between two men. Let them handle it."

Anderson said Spikes shouldn't take offense because no player in the NFL is going to admit another player is better.

"Ray didn't say Spikes is better than (him), he just said he's the best in the game today," Anderson said. "Takeo shouldn't be offended by that. He gave him credit."

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