War of winds

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Welcome to the Windy City.

The Bengals are rapidly discovering they are playing in a wind tunnel at Paul Brown Stadium compared to the sedate bowl at Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field.

Bengals kicker Neil Rackers offers no excuses and downplays the wind's impact on kickers. But talk to his holder, punter Daniel Pope, about Rackers' 46-yard field-goal attempt that veered left at the last instant on Sunday, the first winterish day of the season.

"The wind definitely moved that one and it will move a ball," Pope said. "You better be dead on. It's going to be a factor kicking here. Look at the kickers who have missed in here. You have to keep your eye on the flags at all times because they're always changing."

PBS has become a place where good kickers have missed. Maybe it's because of the temporary grass and swirling winds. Titans kicker Al DelGreco, the NFL's most accurate kicker since 1995, missed a 33-yard try and made a 22-yarder by bouncing it off the left upright on Sunday.

Pro Bowler Jason Hanson of the Lions missed two during an exhibition game back in August and wondered about the grass.

With the stadium open at both ends, the wind swirls from the downtown buildings at one end and the Ohio River from the other.

"It's going to be windier and colder here than it was at Riverfront Stadium," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "The grass will be improved next year, but you can see (the kickers) trying to get a hold with their feet. It's not an easy place to kick right now."

Pope says wind wasn't the reason he had an off day with a 37.1-yard average. But he spent a good deal of Sunday with Rackers throwing grass in the air.

"We walked on the field and it was blowing from our left side, the left back corner, toward our locker room," Pope said. "Then when we changed quarters, it was blowing in our face from our sideline to that back right corner. It was swirling. It was left to right earlier. It will do some weird things."

THIS AND THAT: The Bengals are sticking with the rookie kicker even though Rackers has hit only three of his first eight NFL tries. The 35-yarder that was blocked Sunday was low, but there was also penetration from the middle.

"He's another one of our young guys who does well in practice, but in games has to get to that level," said Brown, who also could have been referring to quarterback Akili Smith and cornerback Artrell Hawkins. "It goes left. He hooks it. It appears to be overanxious because he's coming off the ball a bit too soon." . . .

Pope says the PBS grass is in better shape than it was two months ago and is no longer coming up in chunks. But it is getting muddy. Titans running back Eddie George said the grass was too long and mushy, and put on different cleats after pre-game warmups, which turned out to be a 181-yard call. . .

When Bengals coach Dick LeBeau heard rookie receiver Peter Warrick isn't happy with his number of touches and doesn't know why he only got the ball once on Sunday, LeBeau said, "He has to understand there's only one ball. There's only one ball and there are five skilled people out there who all want it. That's the answer, but he understands that." . . .

LeBeau continues to remain upbeat, sounding like a cross between Norman Schwarzkopf and Norman Vincent Peale. Asked about his return trip this week to Pittsburgh, where he coordinated the Steelers' Super Bowl defense, LeBeau said, "I think that it's good that you brought that up because I think they were 0-3 going into those (last two wins.) That would be a pretty doable thing for a team to go 0-3 and come around and beat two pretty good football teams in Jacksonville and the Jets. That's exactly the scenario we're looking to duplicate."

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