10-28-01, 2:50 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
PONTIAC, Mich. _ Running back Corey Dillon jolted the Bengals into the lead against the Lions on the game's first snap with the longest play from scrimmage in club history, but Cincinnati couldn't put away the winless Lions in a wild first half here at the Pontiac Silverdome.
Desmond Howard's career-long 91-yard kick return in the half's last two minutes set up running back Lamont Warren's one-yard touchdown run with 21 seconds left to cut the Bengals lead to 21-13.
Just moments before, on the first play after the two-minute warning, the Bengals capped their biggest first-half scoring binge in two years when wide receiver Darnay Scott caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jon Kitna to give Cincinnati a 21-6 lead.
Lions safety Kurt Schulz, playing his first game of the season, knocked cornerback Todd Lyght off the coverage and Scott outstepped linebacker Barrett Green's tackle at the goal line.
But Howard answered, screeching past Bo Jennings' tackle on the sideline and making a huge cut to the middle that sent JoJuan Armour flying before Cory Hall tripped him up at the nine-yard line.
It was a more than a frustrating first half for the Bengals. They outgained Detroit, 228-109, got 1.5 sacks each from middle linebacker Brian Simmons and end Reinard Wilson, and two turnovers and were still hanging on for dear life.
Dillon gave the Bengals a 14-3 lead with nine minutes left in the first half when he took an eight-yard pass from Kitna on third-and-goal and bulled and stretched for the final two yards and a touchown.
Dillon ended that 13-play drive with 123 rushing yards on 10 carries and finished the half with 123 on 12. But it was his two-yard juke on third-and-one in which he spun away from a Lion at the line of scrimmage that kept the drive alive.
Kitna ignited the drive that took 7:24 with a 20-yard scramble on third-and-long
and got 20 more when he hit wide receiver Peter Warrick over the middle.
But the Bengals kept letting the winless Lions off the hook. On the next series, Kitna threw behind Warrick over the middle and strong safety Ron Rice took it to the Bengals 24.
With rookie defensive end Justin Smith leading a stout Bengals' pass rush, Cincinnati held the Lions to Jason Hanson's 24-yard field goal that made it 14-6 with 3:47 left in the first half.
On third-and-goal, Lions quarterback Charlie Batch, already sacked three times, overthrew open wide receiver Johnnie Morton working on cornerback Artrell Hawkins.
The Bengals also missed chances to blow it open early when they couldn't get any points after Detroit's first two drives produced turnovers on the Lions' side of the field. and Detroit got back into the game on Jason Hanson's 51-yard field goal with 1:24 left in the first quarter that made it 7-3.
After Smith's first career interception put the ball near the Detroit 43, Kitna took a 16-yard sack when linebacker Allen Aldridge blew by tight end Tony McGee.
Then after Simmons stripped Batch for a fumble at the Detroit 22, the Bengals went nowhere and Neil Rackers missed his seventh field goal in 13 tries from 47 yards.
Dillon found traffic behind center on his opening run, then veered left and shot through a gap created by left tackle Richmond Webb's block on end Tracy Scroggins for Cincinnati's first touchdown in the first quarter in 10 games.
The 96-yarder is the longest run since the first year of the franchise, when Paul Robinson went for 87 yards against the Raiders.
The fourth longest run in NFL history got its start when the Bengals' Curtis Keaton fumbled the kickoff and could only return it to the four.
The Bengals arrived here looking to end a grinding sojourn in which they have lost their last six road games and 11 of the last 12.
In fact, the last time they beat a non-AFC Central foe on the road was here in the Silverdome three years ago.
But even though the Lions are winless, Cincinnati's injury problems at cornerback made them underdogs to the hot Batch. Batch didn't throw this week because of a sore shoulder, but his offense is rolling from averaging 385 yards the past three games.
The Lions put injured running back James Stewart on the shelf before the game, more evidence Detroit would come out passing because they like to throw to Warren. But Batch was only nine of 13 for 92 yards in the first half and Morton had just three catches for 24 yards.
The Bengals expected to get back defensive end Vaughn Booker in the starting lineup Sunday after he missed last week's 24-0 loss to the Bears with a sore ankle.
But they had problems on defense. With Robert Bean (hamstring) and Tom Carter (knee) not dressed, the Bengals were down to two rookie cornerbacks in Jennings and Kevin Kaesviharn after being forced to cut sixth-round pick, linebacker Riall Johnson, to make room for Kaesviharn Saturday morning. It could be a short stint for Kaesviharn, since the upcoming bye week figures to get Bean and Carter ready for the next game, which is Nov. 11 in Jacksonville.
Bengals President Mike Brown indicated Sunday the club could try to add Johnson again this week if Bean and Carter show improvement.
"I can't remember one position getting hit like we've been hit there," Brown said. "We had to make the move because you just can't go into game with only three cornerbacks."
Cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle spent some extra time Saturday night with Jennings and Kaesviharn. Every Saturday night, Coyle has his group go through an entire game on tape and directs them to make the correct calls as the offense reveals its formation. Then he had Jennings and Kaesviharn do some more work after the others left the meeting.
"I just told them to play like they've played their entire careers," Coyle said.
Kaesviharn came to the Bengals via the Arena league and XFL at the urging of Bengals scout Duke Tobin. Tobin liked his 6-1, 185-pound frame and smarts. Not to mention his 14 indoor interceptions.
"It's hard to get 14 interceptions in arena ball," Tobin said. "It's a quick game and it's primarily man-to-man where they get a running start at you. You have to have some alertness, awareness and quick hands."
The Bengals also liked that Kaesviharn spent a season coaching his alma mater's secondary at Augustana College in South Dakota and was substitute teaching in Sioux Falls when the Bengals called last week.
"He's a highly intelligent kid with very good ball skills who has a lot of range and good size," Tobin said."Plus, he's been productive in pro leagues."
After picking off three passes for the San Francisco Demons in the XFL this past spring, Kaesviharn spent all of training camp with the Packers before getting released on his 25th birthday. The Bengals were also impressed how he played for Green Bay against Cleveland when he played most of the pre-season game.