Jones still could play

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 11, 2003

CINCINNATI - Left tackle Levi Jones could walk through the Cincinnati Bengals locker room Wednesday, leaving a slight hope that he might not have to miss a game.

Jones had torn cartilage repaired in his right knee on Monday, and the club listed him as doubtful for its home game against San Francisco. The Bengals (7-6) need to win to stay among the top playoff contenders.

The Bengals don't have an experienced backup at tackle, so Jones' condition is getting a lot of attention.

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''It's been getting better day by day,'' Jones said. ''I came in here yesterday (for treatment) and I couldn't walk. By the time I left yesterday, I was walking lightly. Today I'm walking around fully without crutches.

''At that pace, hopefully I'll be running by Saturday and playing by Sunday.''

Cincinnati was in trouble after Jones fell awkwardly and tore cartilage in the second half of a 31-13 loss in Baltimore. Scott Rehberg replaced him, but gave up two sacks and had two false starts as the Ravens pulled away and opened a one-game lead over the Bengals in the AFC North.

Jones stayed in for one more play after the injury, then realized something was wrong and he needed to come out.

''It was very upsetting, especially with the caliber of game we were playing,'' he said. ''I was in the locker room going crazy because I wanted to go back out there.''

Rehberg, a guard who hadn't played tackle in the regular season since 1999, is practicing at the spot this week while Jones tries to get his knee ready.

Quarterback Jon Kitna took the blame for many of the problems with the offensive line, which gave up six sacks. Kitna was sick and hoarse on Sunday in Baltimore, so his linemen had trouble hearing the calls.

''What happened last week was not a result of Levi going down and having to put a guy in,'' said Kitna, who was still a little hoarse on Wednesday. ''If you look at the film, every defensive lineman was getting the jump on our offensive line. Why? Because they couldn't hear me.

''This week, they'll hear me. My voice will be better. The crowd will be on our side. We'll be just fine. There's no panic. There's no reason to panic.''