8-28-03, 6:15 p.m.8-29-03, 10:15 p.m.


INDIANAPOLIS _ The Bengals went into Friday night's preseason finale here against the Colts emphasizing special teams, and proceeded to turn the kicking game into a circus during a first half they somehow took a 14-7 lead.

Would you believe three botched field goal snaps, a field goal wiped out by a false start, and a blown 36-yard-field-goal attempt?

"Obviously, we have to do a lot better," said head coach Marvin Lewis of special teams. "We're just awful in the passing game and we've got to get it fixed."

The Bengals did look impressive on both sides of the ball in the first half, with the defense holding the Colts to 83 yards while racking up 272 yards, 133 coming from rookie receivers Kelley Washington and Lawrence Hamilton.

Backup quarterback Shane Matthews did the most damage, hitting 11 of 16 passes for 168 yards. Matthews attributed part of his success to the vanilla defenses played in preseason, but said, "It's good for us just to be able to go out there and move the ball up and down the field."

Yet the special teams snafus that just won't go away no matter the coaches or the players, cast a pall over the first half.

On the game's opening kickoff, the Colts' Brad Pyatt took Neil Rackers' kickoff at his own five-yard line and knifed through the middle of the Bengals' defenders for a 95-yard touchdown run.

Not only that, but on their second series of the game, Brad St. Louis' high snap short-circuited Rackers' 42-yard field-goal attempt.

Not only that, when wide receiver Peter Warrick called a fair catch outside his own 10 late in the first quarter, he collided with his blocker and the punt rolled to his own 3.

Not only that, with Rackers prepared to kick a 25-yard chip shot to make it 17-7 in the middle of the second quarter, holder Nick Harris bobbled his third field-goal snap of the preseason.

And, would you believe, three tries for a chip-shot field goal in the last seven seconds of the half blew up on a)another fumbled snap on Travis Dorsch's first hold of the season on third down at the Colts 13, b) then a a false start on right tackle Willie Anderson that wiped out a made 31-yarder, and then c) a Rackers miss to the left from 36 yards.

As if they needed more misery, wide receiver Chad Johnson left for good with a left ankle sprain early in the second quarter. Runninb back Rudi Johnson left in the third quarter with a quad strain.

But the Bengals still managed to grind out the 14-7 lead with a 52-yard touchdown pass from

Matthews to Washington, and the defense responded by stopping drives on outside linebacker Brian Simmons' sack, the secondary's first interception of the season by safety Kevin Kaesvihran, and a fumble recovery by safety Marquand Manuel that was forced by rookie defensive end Elton Patterson.

Back-back roughing calls on the Colts rescued the Bengals from the first muffed field goal and moved them to the Indianapolis 6. Running back Brandon Bennett then shrugged off tacklers at the goal line to finish off his six-yard touchdown run that tied the game at seven with 8:04 left in the first quarter.

Bennett got the nod because Lewis chose not to play Corey Dillon and finished the half with 30 yards on eight carries.

Colts head coach Tony Dungy countered by not playing his Pro Bowl runner, Edgerrin James, and pulled his Pro Bowl quarterback, Peyton Manning, after one series and two of three passing for eight yards.

Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna worked just one quarter, completing six of 10 passes for 45 yards and wasn't as sharp as he has been in this preseason. He threw behind Warrick on a crossing route at the Colts 10, and threw high to tight end Sean Brewer on a third down throw that Brewer probably should have been able to haul in, but didn't.

Warrick atoned for the botched punt by keeping the drive alive with an eight-yard sideline catch on third-and-one. Then Matthews came into the game on the same drive at the beginning of the second quarter and found Washington wide open down the right sideline behind fallen Colts cornerback Clifton Crosby to cap the 97-yard march.

"It was a stutter step with a pump move. I guess the guy fell down," said Matthews after nearly getting hit on the play. "At first I didn't think I could throw it far enough (because of the rush)."

In the final 1:16 of the half, Matthews took the Bengals from his 16 to the Colts 13, which included a 21-yard throw to Hamilton on his way to a 53-yard first half, and 21 more yards on two throws to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, including a 15-yard run and catch.

But then came the kicking follies.

"It's unexplainable," Harris said. "This has never happened to me. Not last year. Not in college. I'm just determined not to let it happen again."

The Bengals bubble decisions were made even more difficult when several players on the edge didn't go because of injury. Defensive end Reinard Wilson (hamstring), left outside linebacker Steve Foley (bruised lower back), and middle linebacker Armegis Spearman, all thought to be scuffling for spots, didn't play. Defensive tackle Glen Steele (knee) who looks to be OK, didn't play.

On offense, wide receiver Danny Farmer (knee) didn't go either, and with the influx of two waiver-wire receivers this week, that also seem to be a position under scrutiny if you're not Warrick, Johnson, or Washington.

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