10-29-01, 1:20 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
PONTIAC, Mich. _ It was the only way this tractor pull could have ended in the Motor City.
There was rookie cornerback Bo Jennings, who left the Lions' practice squad 12 days ago to join the Bengals, snuff out his old team's last hope at the Detroit 45 on Sunday's last play as he wrestled to keep receiver Scottie Anderson in bounds. With three Bengals' cornerbacks shelved for the game, Jennings' in-the-pinch competence helped get another old Lions cornerback Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau a win over his old team, 31-27.
"It's incredible," said Jennings, the 5-8, 200-pounder out of Tennessee State. "It's the stuff people dream about. To play in a place and then come back and beat your old. . .team."
Cincinnati's decimated secondary held up with Jennings and starters Artrell Hawkins and Mark Roman playing the bulk of the snaps and free safety Cory Hall sliding over to corner when the Lions rarely went with four wide receivers.
Lions quarterback Charlie Batch didn't throw a pass longer than 27 yards after resting a sore shoulder all week. He got picked off twice. Coming off back-to-back 300-yard passing games, he finished with 239.
And in the game's last 8:06 and the Lions trailing, 31-27, Batch completed just two of his next nine passes before hitting three for first downs in the last desperate 42 seconds.
"They held their own," said Bengals middle linebacker Brian Simmons of the secondary. "As a defense, we would have been sick if they had scored after we took the lead."
The secondary held up
in large part because the Bengals' front seven decimated the NFL's worst pass protection. Not only did they ring Batch for four sacks, but triple that for about how many times he got hit as he threw.
"They didn't block us very well on the edge," Simmons said. "That's where most of the pressure came from. Our ends were beating their tackles up field. They were rolling (Batch) out. I guess they figured if they rolled him, they were running away from the pressure. When you do that, the quarterback has to get rid of it most of the time and he was just holding it."
Jennings made Batch hold it on the third series of the game, when one of the Lions' receivers that he practiced with at minicamps and training camp tried to sucker him on the slant and go. Jennings didn't bite,
Batch held it and Simmons came through on a blitz for a sack-and-strip recovered by end Reinard Wilson at the Detroit 22.
"We were watching for the double moves and if they would try to come out at us with tricky stuff," Jennings said. "We were coached well all week. We just kind of sat back and let it come to us instead of us attacking them so hard. We showed a lot of poise out there. When the heat was totally on us, we came through."
But it just wasn't a big day for the unknown rookies. The clubs' first-round picks matched up against each other and Bengals right end Justin Smith, a week after some observers thought he struggled against the Bears' running game, continually beat Lions left tackle Jeff Backus on the pass rush.
Smith set the tone, ending Detroit's first series of the day with his first career interception that he returned 21 yards to the Lions 43. Backus tried to cut block Smith as Batch rolled left and lofted a second-and-seven pass from the Bengals 30. Smith regained his balance, stopped his rush, jumped, and Batch threw it right to the former high school tight end.
"The only problem was, I couldn't catch," Smith said of his days on offense. "He threw it right at me. I must have been wearing blue or something. In college, I had a chance to get a couple, but I dropped them."
Smith didn't get a sack, but he drew Backus into two holding calls. The last one came with 17 seconds left, when Batch took a shot down field at wide receiver Desmond Howard at about the Cincinnati 30. Howard had Roman beat, but Roman dove and stuck out his hand at the last instant to knock away the ball. Back up field, Backus had torn off Smith's helmet to keep him away from Batch.
"They put a lot of pressure on the quarterback," Roman said. "He couldn't get his feet set and that helps out the secondary tremendously."
Simmons took over the team sack lead at 3.5 after he and Wilson each registered 1.5 sacks. Outside linebacker Takeo Spikes had the other as the Bengals jacked their total to 17 in seven games. Last year, the Bengals didn't get their 17th sack until the 12th game.
Rookie cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn, who went from teaching school a week ago in South Dakota to being activated off the practice squad 24 hours before the game, didn't take a snap at corner Sunday. But he did make a special teams tackle in his NFL debut.
"He almost got in when Roman banged up his knee early," said cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle. "But Mark was able to come back fairly soon. All the guys played solid and had some plays."
Jennings got a nice welcome from his former mates before and after the game.
"They were happy for me," Jennings said. "They told me they were real proud. They told me to keep my head up and keep the heart and run with it."