10-28-01, 4:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
PONTIAC, Mich. _ The Bengals broke one of the NFL's most sacred rules Sunday here at the Pontiac Silverdome when they let a winless team hang around.
But their undermanned cornerbacks, playing with former Lion Bo Jennings, stood up to Detroit quarterback Charlie Batch in the final quarter and held on for a 31-27 victory as the Bengals went to 4-3 for the first time since 1990.
With about two minutes left in the game, Detroit faced a third-and-25 after Lions tackle Aaron Gibson was called for a 15-yard facemask penalty on Reinard Wilson. Batch threw his second interception of the when free safety Darryl Williams gathered in a tipped pass inside the 50.
But running back Corey Dillon, near the 170-yard mark, got stuffed on a fourth-and-one near the Detroit 5 with 42 seconds left and Batch had one shot left.
Yet Bengals rookie defensive end Justin Smith forced a holding call and the secondary smothered Lions receiver Scottie Anderson on the game's last play at midfield.
Dillon gave the Bengals the 31-27 lead with 8:06 left in the game when he scored on the second effort of a two-yard touchdown run for his third touchdown of the day in finishing off the Bengals' second 13-play touchdown drive of the game.
As he did on that first long drive, Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna converted a third down with a scramble, this one for seven yards. He also hit receivers Peter Warrick and Darnay Scott for 19-yard passes.
The Lions, trailing 21-6, late in the first half, capped a furious comeback with 34 seconds left in the third quarter when Lions quarterback Charlie Batch hit running back Lamont Warren on a two-point conversion pass that gave Detroit a 27-24 lead after three quarters.
Detroit got the go-ahead touchdown when the Bengals had trouble covering tight end David Sloan. The wide-open Sloan caught a 26-yard pass and a few plays later was wide open again for a one-yard touchdown and the first two-touchdown game of his career. Batch finished the third quarter with 161 yards on 15-for-21 passing.
The Bengals had tried to stop to the binge when they took a 24-19 lead with 5:08 left in the third on Neil Rackers' 39-yard field goal, and then went back to Dillon he got 96 yards on his first carry of the day.
After taking a 21-6 lead with 1:53 left in the first half , the Bengals got burned by two long kick returns by Desmond Howard, had an 11-yard touchdown pass to Warrick wiped out early in the third quarter on a holding call on right tackle Willie Anderson, and then saw Warrick's punt return with 6:40 left in the third quarter get brought back to past midfield from the Detroit 12 with a penalty on free safety Darryl Williams.
Howard's 65-yard return set up Sloan's first score that came after Batch floated a 27-yard pass to receiver Johnnie Morton in front of cornerback Artrell Hawkins.
Dillon jolted the Bengals into the lead on the game's first snap with the longest play from scrimmage in club history. But Cincinnati couldn't put away the Lions in a wild first half.
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 Scott caught a 30-yard touchdown pass 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 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 the open Morton working on 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.