10-5-03, 3:05 p.m
BY GEOFF HOBSON
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. _ Of course, it had to be a defensive game.
The Bengals and Bills celebrated the reunion of the Bengals' old defensive captain (Takeo Spikes), their old defensive coordinator and head coach (Dick LeBeau) and old defensive war horse (Tim Krumrie) with a slugfest that ended with the Bengals leading 6-3 at halftime.
Playing without running back Corey Dillon for the first time in 52 games, the Bengals could get nothing going on the ground and had to ride the connection between quarterback Jon Kitna and wide receiver Peter Warrick to set up Shayne Graham field goals from 39 and 37 yards. His attempt from 54 yards on the last play of the first half was long enough, but just went left as he kicked with about a 20-mile-per-hour wind at his back on his first miss of the season in seven tries.
Meanwhile, the Bengals' defense forced Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe into a dreadful 5-for-17 passing half for 45 yards and its steady pressure finally paid off when left Duane Clemons sacked him in the final minute of the half. A drop by receiver Josh Reed in the red zone didn't help Bledsoe and he needed a Ryan Lindell's 27-yard field goal with 50 seconds left in the first quarter for the game's first points.
Kitna hit 16 of 27 passes for 153 yards while the Bengals could manage just 17 yards on 14 carries from a committee of Rudi Johnson and Brandon Bennett.
Warrick had six catches for 74 yards in the half and his 15-yarder early in the second quarter put the Bengals in the red zone for the first time. But the running game went nowhere and a mental mistake cost them when wide receiver Chad Johnson was called for a false start. That forced Graham's field goal that got backed into a 39-yarder with 6:20 left in the half after left tackle Levi Jones was also called fro a false start.
The Bengals took a 6-3 lead with a minute left in the half in a drive highlighted by Warrick's 20-yard catch-and-run across the middle, and Chad Johnson's nine-yard catch at the sideline in front of cornerback Nate Clements.
But Kitna couldn't find anybody open on three straight passes from the Bills 19 and Graham came on to hit the 37-yarder.
No doubt playing with a certain frenzy from their new defensive line coach, former Bengal Tim Krumrie's unit controlled scrimmage. Led by tackle Pat Williams, the Bills stuffed Cincinnati on minus one rushing yard in the first quarter, and forced a turnover early in the second quarter. Williams blew up the middle of the Bengals' line to force Bennett's fumble that was recovered by cornerback Kevin Thomas at the Bengals 40.
But in this game of dueling No. 51s (Spikes' number here and in Cincinnati, Bengals middle linebacker Kevin Hardy pressured Bledsoe into an incompletion on third-and-four, and then knocked down a pass on the next play when the Bills went for it on fourth down.
The Bills came into Sunday griping about their next-to-last in the league running game and turned to running back Travis Henry even though he missed last week's game with a rib injury and was iffy throughout the week. Henry could just manage 30 yards on nine carries in the first half.
Rudi Johnson, making his first NFL start, got stopped on third-and-one from the Bills 39 to end the the Bengals first series when defensive tackle Pat Williams blew past Bengals rookie left guard Eric Steinbach. Their third series became doomed when Spikes came in unblocked between the left tackle and guard to blow up Bennett for a six-yard loss.
Johnson had 18 yards on eight carries and Bennett had a minus yard on six runs in the first half as the Bengals shook up their offensive line a bit. Right guard Matt O'Dwyer still hasn't played since he got last week's holding penalty in the fourth quarter against Cleveland, and Mike Goff played the first half and into the second half.
Deactivated along with Dillon Sunday were wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, linebacker Riall Johnson, cornerback Dennis Weathersby, offensive lineman Victor Leyva, defensive end Elton Patterson, and linebacker Keyon Whiteside.