Bengals hang close at half

12-15-02, 2:55 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Stop if you've seen this before.

The running game unable to score from the goal line.

Two long touchdown drives surrendered by the defense.

A blown timeout because right guard Mike Goff didn't get on the field for Neil Rackers' 51-yard field goal.

And yet, the Bengals were within 14-12 of the Jaguars at halftime and would have been tied at 14 if running back Corey Dillon didn't drop a two-point conversion pass with 58 seconds left.

The touchdown came when quarterback Jon Kitna ran a five-yard draw for a touchdown after he kept the drive alive from the Jaguars 30 with a 25-yard pass to wide-open wide receiver Ron Dugans on third-and-10. On the conversion, Kitna scrambled away from pressure and found Dillon wide open at the last instant, but the ball was dropped.

Kitna appeared well on his way to another big day, hitting 10 of 17 passes for 145 yards with no interceptions, and wide receiver Chad Johnson closed within 34 yards of 1,000 with two grabs for 61 in the half. His 44-yard catch while working one-on-one with cornerback Jason Craft down the middle came early in the second quarter with Jacksonville leading, 14-3, and put the Bengals at the Jags 21.

But as they have been unable to do all year, the offensive line couldn't get any movement on third-and-1 from the Jags 1, and Dillon got stopped on the right side by middle linebacker Wali Rainer for a loss of one.

Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau

then took heat from the sparse crowd for calling on Rackers to kick an 18-yard field goal with 9:05 left in the game to cut the Jags' lead to 14-6.

Dillon spent another head-shaking day looking for room. He had just 32 yards on 13 carries in the first half, a 2.5-yard average against a defense ranked just 27th against the run in the NFL.

The Bengals' defensive problems continued to snowball right from the first drive, a stunningly easy 11-play march for a Jaguars' offense that came into the game mired 24th in the NFL stats.

But they looked awesome against a Bengals' defense that has now already given up 401 points with eight quarters left in the season.

Quarterback Mark Brunell hit 11 of 15 passes in the first half and four of them went to wide receiver Jimmy Smith. Without cornerback Artrell Hawkins (thigh), the Bengals had no answer for Smith as he rung up 51 yards and running back Fred Taylor chewed up 46 yards on his first nine carries.

It didn't help that rookie cornerback LaVar Glover was lost for the game with a strained hamstring early in the second quarter. But defensive tackle Glen Steele came up with a stop of Taylor on third-and-short to kill one drive and defensive end Justin Smith and free safety Cory Hall each got a sack to quash another.

The Bengals also lost defensive end Bernard Whittington in the third quarter with a groin injury, leaving them with the little-used Eric Ogbogu at his spot.

The Jaguars scored on a pair of touchdown passes, a 12-yard screen pass to wide receiver Kevin Lockett fueled by several missed tackles, and a nine-yarder to tight end Pete Mitchell working on outside linebacker Canute Curtis. Brunell, off a play-action rollout, squeezed the ball into a diving Mitchell on the sideline and the play held up on LeBeau's challenge.

The Bengals were hampered on offense without injured wide receiver Peter Warrick, missing his first NFL game with bruised lungs. They activated Tony Stewart for his first game as a Bengal so they could run more two tight-end sets because their fourth receiver, Danny Farmer has problems with an injured knee and calf and isn't expected to play much, if at all. Stewart had one catch for six yards in the first half.

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