Bengals lose in OT

12-02-01, 4:21 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Pro Bowl safety John Lynch stripped Bengals running back Corey Dillon of the ball on the Cincinnati 4 and Tampa Bay kicker Martin Gramatica won the game on the next play on a 21-yard field goal with 9:54 left in overtime as the Buccaneers beat the Bengals, 16-13, Sunday.

Dillon had fought through two tacklers at the goal line for a touchdown with eight seconds left in regulation to force the first overtime at Paul Brown Stadium.

Dillon, who had 79 yards rushing on 23 carries, caught a six-yard pass from quarterback Jon Kitna to cap a 14-play, 64-play drive in the Bengals' only flash of offense since the opening 14-play drive that gave them a 3-0 lead.

Neil Rackers pulled the Bengals to within 13-6 on a 41-yard field goal that grazed the right goal post with 4:23 left in the game. And like they did all day, the Bengals' defense came up with a stand when tackle Oliver Gibson gave them their fourth what would be five sacks while holding Tampa Bay to 240 total yards in regulation.

Gibson's sack gave the offense the ball one last time at the Cincinnati 36 with 2:37 left in the game.

The Bengals' no-touchdown streak hit 10 quarters when a Tampa Bay turnover in the Bengals' red zone and consecutive defensive stands that didn't yield a yard in the third quarter couldn't jump-start Cincinnati's struggling offense.

The Buccaneers held a 13-3 lead early in the fourth quarter with their only touchdown coming on a blocked punt against a stingy Bengals defense that allowed just 194 total yards in the first three quarters. The Bengals still had a shot because kicker Gramatica missed a 51-yard field goal try midway through the fourth quarter.

But the Bengals managed just 115 yards themselves in the first three quarters with Dillon grinding for 48 yards on 18 yards as the team's most effective weapon.

With 6:45 left in the third quarter and the Bucs driving inside the red zone, fullback Mike Alstott had a third-down conversion from red-hot quarterback Brad Johnson. But Bengals cornerback Robert Bean forced a fumble recovered by safety Chris Carter that gave the ball to the Bengals at their own 30.

Yet, two runs by Dillon for seven yards and a sack of Kitna on a rollout were all that happened.

With Johnson hitting 18 of his first 21 passes (and first 14), the Bengals held again on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 as the Bucs neared the Cincinnati 33. Tackle Oliver Gibson stuffed Alstott on third down and cornerback Mark Roman knocked away a fourth-down pass to Jacquez Green.

But the Bengals couldn't answer when Tampa Bay cornerback Donnie Abraham had time to step in front of receiver Ron Dugans to pick off a Kitna pass that didn't appear to have much mustard as the offense began to hear the boos from the Paul Brown Stadium crowd.

Kicker Neil Rackers gave the Bengals a 3-0 lead, but special teams still found a way to swipe Cincinnati's momentum when Tampa Bay grabbed the lead early in the second quarter on a blocked punt held it for a 7-3 half-time edge.

Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, ignoring the Bengals' outside defender, moved inside and rushed off the slot to block Nick Harris' punt. Todd Yoder picked it up at the Bengals 11 and ran in for the score Tampa Bay couldn't get in its first drive that consumed 18 plays and 11:15.

More woes piled up during the game. The Bengals probably lost their only pure tight end when Tony McGee injured his right knee on the first play of the half's two-minute drill. And that drive for a field goal got short-circuited when Kitna's completion to Dugans in field-goal range got wiped out by left guard Scott Rehberg's holding penalty.

Brad Johnson killed the Bengals softly with short, quick routes. He hit all of his dozen passes in the first half for 97 yards, but got sacked four times, twice by rookie end Justin Smith. The first one came when Johnson tripped on his own lineman and the second when Bucs rookie left tackle Kenyatta Walker chose to block rushing outside linebacker Takeo Spikes and let Smith whiz by him.

The Bengals snapped their skein of seven straight scoreless quarter by keeping the ball for the first 8:10 and 14 plays in taking the lead on Rackers' 23-yard field goal.

But after a drive that went inside the Tampa Bay 1 with Dillon proving effective off tackle behind fullback Lorenzo Neal and new H-Back Nick Williams, the Bengals tried Dillon on a toss sweep on second down. He got nailed for a four-yard loss as he got wrestled out of bounds.

Kitna, 9 of 13 passing in the half for 69 yards, then short-hopped a

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throw to McGee in the end zone and the Bengals went on to end the half with nine straight quarters without a touchdown.

Dillon, who had 20 yards on his eight carries before the sweep, finished the half with 33 yards on 14 carries.

The Bengals had got a huge lift in the Bucs' first drive when Tampa Bay faced a third-and-two from the Bengals 24 and defensive tackle Oliver Gibson came up with a sack of Johnson as Johnson got the snap. Kicker Martin Gramatica pushed a 43-yard field-goal attempt to the right.

But in that first drive, the Bengals let Tampa Bay wriggle out of a third-and-27 when rookie cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn's pass interference call negated safety Carter's interception.

The Bengals made it official Sunday morning and put down an injured starter each on offense in left guard Matt O'Dwyer and on defense in right cornerback Artrell Hawkins.

The two moves should affect the major themes of the matchup between the Bengals and Buccaneers. Cincinnati came in trying to snap a skein of seven straight scoreless quarters and the Bucs tried to get the NFC's leading receiver into the end zone for the first time this season as Keyshawn Johnson pitted his 76 catches against the Bengals' depleted secondary.

Johnson and his cousin, Bengals rookie receiver Chad Johnson, offered an interesting interlude during the week as Chad sat in quietly while the Cincinnati media interviewed Keyshawn over the phone. If Chad wrote a book, such as Keyshawn did in his early days with the Jets, what would the title be?

"I Want the Damn Ball, Also," Chad said.

But it's been hard this season getting the darn thing. Not only for Chad, but for the rest of the receivers who took heat after Jon Kitna and Scott Mitchell threw five interceptions last week in Cleveland. Bengals receivers coach Steve Mooshagian defended his players this week after that 18-0 loss in Cleveland.

"They have not been as bad as publicly perceived," Mooshagian said of his six wideouts. "Because people don't know all the things that we're asking them to do. . .They're young receivers and they're not only learning a new offense, but also getting the timing down with the quarterback and how he anticipates."

Three of the six are also hurt (Peter Warrick) or coming off injury ( Chad Johnson, Darnay Scott) and as one club insider observed, "We were nicked and it showed."

Keyshawn has been preaching patience to Chad during their three or four so weekly phone calls and is urging him not to be stereotyped as a speed receiver.

"I do so many different things on the football field," Keyshawn said. "I'm asked to do a lot of different things. I'm not asked just to catch the football. From blocking to running a route knowing I'm not going to get the football to just being a pure leader. I think (Chad's) game will come to that level. Overall, his game is going to grow each year.

"You don't have to be the fastest guy in this league to be dominant," Keyshawn said. "Not only have I proved that, but Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, Chris Carter."

Chad says he's over the broken left collarbone that wiped out four games between Oct. 21 and Nov. 18.

"As far a rookie," Chad said, "I'm crawling until they let me walk."

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