8-17-02, 11:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
INDIANAPOLIS _ The Bengals went to 2-0 in the preseason for the first time in a lucky 13 years here Saturday night at the RCA Dome.
But there were no clear-cut victories in key roster battles as the dust cleared from a sloppy 22-10 victory over the Colts.
Quarterback Jon Kitna looked crisp in his one full series, but for the second straight week Bengals third-stringer Akili Smith engineered two scoring drives in the second half to secure a come-from-behind victory. And Indy scored its only touchdown on an interception thrown by Bengals starting quarterback Gus Frerotte.
Kickers Travis Dorsch and Neil Rackers combined to go three-for-three on field goals, and running backs Curtis Keaton and Rudi Johnson each scored a touchdown and rushed for more than 80 yards.
Johnson bucked over from the 1 with 3:36 left in the game to cap a 92-yard drive that he fueled with a 39-yard run on third down to swipe the clock for good with about six minutes left.
Smith kept the drive alive when he drew a late hit after a quick scramble out of bounds, and when his pass to rookie wide receiver Darcey Levy drew a pass interference penalty.
Smith did nothing spectatcular, but he also made no mistakes in a 9-for-16 passing effort for 53 yards.
That was big in a game of turnovers, which is how the Bengals got the winning points. Rookie free-agent linebacker Tito Rodriguez forced the Colts' Desmond Kitchings to fumble a kickoff that was recovered by tight end Chris Edmonds at the Indy 20.
One of the Bengals' 13 penalties of the night, a hold on backup right tackle Victor Leyva, nearly killed the bid. But Indy returned the favor by roughing Smith, and Keaton scored from two yards out to give the Bengals a 13-10 lead with about four minutes left in third quarter.
Rodriguez, a 245-pounder out of Central Florida, led a swarming backup defense that held the Colts' reserves to eight total yards in the first 27 minutes of the second half.
On a night Bengals rookie free safety Lamont Thompson offered his first NFL interception to end the game's first drive, the Colts turned the tide on two Cincinnati turnovers to take a 10-3 half-time lead.
In an effort to get a better handle on his quarterbacks Saturday night, Bengals head Dick LeBeau pulled a mid-game switch here in the RCA Dome and went with Frerotte into the first series of the second quarter.
But it was Kitna who took a firm step in his derby with Frerotte when he generated the Bengals' only points of the half out of a two-minute drill that ended with Dorsch's 29-yard field goal with 49 seconds left.
But like Frerotte, Kitna was hounded by the mistakes of his sloppy teammates. Just before the field goal, running back Keaton's 12-yard touchdown run was wiped out by rookie tight end Matt Schobel's holding penalty. A 15-yard personal foul on left guard Matt O'Dwyer when he tangled with Colts end Chad Bratzke also didn't help the drive.
"It's basically an even game, but we're behind on the scoreboard because we keep shooting ourselves in the foot," LeBeau said. "All their points are off turnovers. We moved the ball pretty well down the field at the end of the half, but another mistake nullified a touchdown. We've got to get those mistakes tied down."
But Kitna overcame the miscues by again converting some big third-down passes as he did last week in Buffalo. He found wide receiver Peter Warrick for one on a quickout, and he
found Schobel twice in his NFL debut on throws of nine and 10 yards, respectively over the middle to get the first down.
Kitna, looking in command of the offense, hit seven off 11 passes for 60 yards before giving way to Akili Smith at the start of the second half.
The only points Frerotte produced in his three series were seven points for the Colts when second-year nickel back Nick Harper returned a Frerotte interception 77 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter.
Frerotte, who was supposed to play only the first quarter, finished six of 10 passing for 56 yards and threw an interception for the second straight game.
But he had his arm hit on the pass that floated in the direction of wide receiver Ron Dugans. Dugans appeared to be open in the right flat, but the ball went right to Harper, a second-year nickel back, and he barely got touched going down the left sideline.
As sharp as the Bengals looked on offense last week, they looked as out of sorts after the two-hour bus ride from Paul Brown Stadium. On Kitna's first two snaps, Keaton fumbled the ball back to the Colts and rookie left tackle Levi Jones got flagged for failing to line up on the line of scrimmage. The fumble turned into Mike Vanderjagt's 22-yard field goal that gave the Colts a 10-0 lead.
Two of Frerotte's drives started inside his own 16-yard-line when tight end Brad St. Louis and rookie linebacker Tito Rodriguez were called for penalties on a kick and punt return, respectively.
Frerotte's last drive was short-circuited when he couldn't hook up with Keaton on a second-down pass over the middle, and then on the next play Keaton appeared to have the first down on another pass, but linebacker David Thornton gave him a big shot and popped the ball incomplete.
Thompson rescued the Bengals defense from the cannon of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. They let him fire for the game's first eight minutes as he converted his first five attempts as well as two passes of third-and-10 and longer. But on a second-and-16 from the Bengals 32, Thompson did what Cincinnati drafted him to do. He ranged across the middle and picked off a pass attempted for Reggie Wayne at the Bengals 5 and returned it 38 yards.
"I give the pass rushers all the credit for that one," Thompson said. "That ball was just up there floating in the air and I went and got it. I almost had to fair-catch it."