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Bengals lose finale, Foley for season

8-29-02, 9:15 p.m.

Updated: 8-29-02, 10:35 p.m.

Updated: 8-29-02, 11:30 p.m.

Updated: 8-30-02, 12:45 a.m.


The Bengals' bid for their best preseason in recent memory ran into some serious obstacles during a shockingly sloppy second quarter and a listless second half Thursday night.

The 4-0 Falcons ended the Bengals' preseason at 2-2 by parlaying five Cincinnati turnovers into a 27-14 victory at Paul Brown Stadium before 40,530.

To make matters worse, starting left outside linebacker Steve Foley suffered a season-ending dislocated right shoulder diving for a pass in the first half. Foley, nagged by a groin injury all preseason, was making his first appearance of the year. Trainer Paul Sparling said reconstructive surgery should shelve him four to six months.

Foley is to be replaced by Canute Curtis, a six-year veteran who has started seven of the last eight games in Foley's spot dating back to the final four games of last season.

Listless, except, of course, for third-string quarterback Akili Smith's obligatory late-game heroics. Smith's scrambling and passing set up running back Rudi Johnson's one-yard touchdown run with about 12 minutes left in the game to pull the Bengals within 24-14.

But Falcons backup quarterback Doug Johnson, who sifted 10 of 16 throws, cashed a 20-yard pass to diving wide receiver Darrin Chiaverini on third-and-eight en route to chewing seven minutes off the clock and producing Jay Feely's 34-yard field goal with six minutes left in the game.

And as Smith's magic August ended when he threw two interceptions on the Bengals' last two drives of the preseason, the debate if Smith should pass Jon Kitna to No. 2 on the depth chart did not end.

With Gus Frerotte already anointed the Bengals' Opening Day quarterback against the Chargers Sept. 8, the big press-box buzz is if Smith has done enough to pass Kitna. Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau performed a masterful filibuster to keep the answer hazy.

"I told all our quarterbacks, one through three is irrelevant," LeBeau said. "I'm going to put in any of the three that I think is going to help us win. If the number three guy is it, he's going in there. You ask me, 'Coach, if you put the number three guy in there, is he going to go the rest of the game?' My answer to that is, 'It's fine with me because I'm not going to put him in there unless I think he's the best guy for us.'"

Smith made his case by producing his eighth scoring drive of the preseason after a stretch in which the home crowd booed Kitna as if he were a fugitive. Then, as if to taunt the critics who say he runs too much, Smith rifled passes of 31 yards to

wide receiver Ron Dugans and 15 yards to wide receiver Chad Johnson before he threw his first interception of the night on his way to 93 yards passing at 8-for-17. Smith went for Johnson from the Falcons 20 on the Bengals' last drive at the Atlanta 1, and when it got picked by cornerback Juran Bolden, he questioningly waved to Johnson.

"All I'm going to say is that some of our receivers were tired late in the game," Smith said. "On that first one, I tried to force it into Duges."

Smith and Kitna each finished the night with two interceptions, but Smith felt his preseason as a whole (41 of 78 passing for 355 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions, and 124 yards rushing on 20 carries) is good enough to vault him into the mix.

I'm a totally different quarterback than what people saw my second year as far as speed of the game, my command of the offense and all that stuff," said Smith of the 2000 season he started the first 10 games. "It's just too bad I got hurt last year and they brought in Gus and it was a competition between (Frerotte and Kitna). I tried to climb out of that hole. I don't think I made it all the way out. I'll continue to fight."

The buzz came after Kitna was involved in the game's turning point and punctuated his ugly 3-for-11 night.

With the Bengals poised to move into a 14-14 tie and less than four minutes left in the first half at the Falcons 9, Kitna and wide receiver Peter Warrick appeared to have a miscommunication on a roll-out pass and cornerback Fred Weary stepped in front of the throw and took it 94 yards for a touchdown that gave Atlanta a 21-7 half-time lead.

Warrick took the blame for the play because he said he didn't block linebacker Will Overstreet long enough on the bootleg. Overstreet quickly got in Kitna's face, cutting off his vision of Warrick and he threw it behind him."

The Bengals, bidding for their first three-win preseason since they went to the Super Bowl 14 years and 12 starting quarterbacks ago, used their first team to take a 7-0 lead on the 3-0 Falcons before the backups got steamrolled in the club's second straight loss.

"I felt a heck of a lot better two weeks ago," LeBeau said. "If you look at all of our games, I think we match up pretty well. We didn't get it done the last two games and I hope we grow and learn from that. I feel good about the core of our team. I see we play hard and we have to improve. The preseason is behind us and I feel pretty good. At times it didn't look the way I wanted it to look, but I think our football team is ready for the season. They are in good condition and I know this football team will fight you."

The Bengals somehow led the half-time stats with 179 yards to the Falcons' 121 and Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick didn't really hurt them with five of nine passing for 78 yards and one rush of four yards.

But the Falcons took a 14-7 lead on a series of shoddy plays. A week after allowing an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown, the Bengals gave up a 37-yarder to put Vick in Cincinnati territory.

Strong safety JoJuan Armour made up for his 15-yard roughing penalty with a sack of Vick. But the Bengals then pulled an ole' job on third-and-17 when rookie running back T.J.Duckett bowling-balled up the middle for a 24-yard touchdown run.

When Kitna threw another interception on a Hail Mary on the last play of the first half, the boos were in regular-season form.

The Bengals won an early game of takeaway when cornerback Artrell Hawkins outfought Falcons wide receiver Shawn Jefferson for an interception at the 41 and they then went 59 yards the other way in nine plays for a touchdown that gave Cincinnati a 7-0 lead with 2:41 left in the first quarter.

With Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon resting for the 16-game grind, backup Brandon Bennett showed management one last time why they may have to keep six running backs when they cut the roster this coming Sunday.

Bennett, who finished with 42 yards on eight carries, kick-started the drive by spinning away from Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking in the backfield for a 12-yard gain. He finished it off on a 14- yard touchdown run up the middle behind pulling right guard Mike Goff. When Bennett dragged old friend and Falcons cornerback Ashley Ambrose into the end zone, Dillon became the only running back not to score a touchdown in the preseason.

Frerotte, in his first appearance as the Bengals' No. 1, looked sharp despite hitting the deck when the Bengals allowed their first two sacks of the preseason. He left with a passer rating of 104.2 on the night after two series in which he hit four of six passes for 67 yards. He logged one plus-20 throw on a 23-yarder to Chad Johnson on a third-and-four, and erased a sack on the touchdown drive with a 18-yard slant to wide receiver Danny Farmer on second-and-19.

"It wasn't anything spectacular, but I felt good out there," Frerotte said. "We moved the ball pretty well, didn't have any big mistakes, and we got a big lead. You can always say you would have liked more, but I think it was about what we hoped to get out of this game as a first offensive unit. Nobody got hurt. Now we've got 10 days to polish everything and get ready for San Diego. Regardless of what happened tonight, what we do in that game is all that's going to matter."

The Falcons countered with their all-world speed in racking up a microwave drive against the Bengals' first defense. Vick underhanded a screen pass to running back Warrick Dunn and he roared away from Bengals' safeties Mark Roman and Cory Hall on his 36-yard gain. Dunn then wriggled away from the middle on a couple of runs and then scored from three yards out when he strung out the defense to the left sideline and then beat Hall with no safety support behind him. The seven plays in a brisk 3:30 tied the game at seven early in the second quarter

Bengals running back Curtis Keaton left with a bruised knee, but is probable for the opener.

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