Bengals lead wild half

12-1-02, 3 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The killing interception that Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna has avoided during his marvelous eight-game stretch came at the worst time possible moment in the final minute of the first half Sunday here at Paul Brown Stadium.

Somehow, the Bengals still managed to take a 16-14 half-time lead against the Ravens on Neil Rackers' 40-yard field goal on the last play that came courtesy of two 15-yard penalties on Baltimore.

But the Bengals could have been up, 20-7, if not for rookie free safety Chad Williams' 98-yard interception return for a touchdown with 19 seconds left in the half that gave Baltimore a 14-13 lead.

With the Bengals leading, 13-7, and at the Ravens 8 with 35 seconds left, Kitna threw a pass to the outside of running back Corey Dillon as Dillon cut inside to the goal line. The ball went right to Williams, who returned the third interception for a touchdown against the Bengals this season in tying the longest ever returned against them.

Before the play, Kitna had sifted the Ravens for his first 10 passes and 14 of his first 18 for 156 yards and a touchdown. And Dillon became the fourth man in NFL: history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons when he ended the half exactly with 1,000 on 16 carries for 52 yards.

The Bengals' Rudi Johnson, subbing for the injured Brandon Bennett, broke the ensuing kickoff return for 42 yards, and then a

personal foul on Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware gave Rackers a 55-yard chance that he pushed left.

But a "leaping," penalty on wide receiver Randy Hymes gave Rackers the chance to convert on his seventh straight field goal when the ball got moved to the Ravens 22, much to the the chagrin of enraged Ravens head coach Brian Billick.

Kitna hit his first 10 passes for 98 yards, including a four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver T. Houshmandzadeh for his first NFL scoring catch. Kitna got a nice block from Dillon on the blitzing Boulware on the play as he hit Houshmandzadeh on a crossing route, but Rackers missed his first extra point of the season when he banged it off the right upright with 4:28 left in the first quarter.

Kitna got the big play when he got a leaping 31-yard grab over the middle by wide receiver Ron Dugans on a good pass between free safety Will Demps and cornerback Robert Tate.

Bengals safety Mark Roman forced quarterback Jeff Blake to fumble at the Bengals 20, but somehow Blake got the ball back when no one fell on it.

Matt Stover's 39-yard field goal was negated on tight end John Jones' holding penalty and Stover popped the ensuing 48-yarder short.

Then the Bengals went up 13-0 just three minutes into the second quarter when Dillon veered right from five yards out and carried rookie free safety Ed Reed into the end zone.

Again Kitna supplied the big play. The Bengals wasted no time when on the first snap after the missed field goal he hit a wide-open Peter Warrick for a 32-yard gain off a play-action fake that went to the Ravens 29. Dillon set up his score by ripping off 10 yards on a draw.

But the Bengals' defense, ranked next-to-last against the rush, couldn't respond on the ground or in the air. Running back Jamal Lewis, three weeks after he ripped them for 135 yards, kept it going in the first half when he mauled them for 74 yards and a 6.7-yard per carry average.

But Blake used a run fake to close the gap to 13-7 when his play-action sent wide receiver Travis Taylor wide open on a post pattern past free safety Cory Hall for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 8:26 left in the half.

But the Bengals' defense did stand up at certain junctures. Defensive end Justin Smith set up the next-to-last drive of the half with a sack and defensive end Bernard Whittington ended the Ravens' first drive

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