BY GEOFF HOBSON
FOXBORO, Mass _ The Bengals' rejuvenated passing game in quarterback Scott Mitchell's first Cincinnati start produced a 10-10 halftime Sunday here at Foxboro Stadium.
Mitchell's 13-yard pass to rookie receiver Peter Warrick with six minutes left in the half, broke the Bengals' drought of 28 straight quarters without a touchdown pass and pulled the Bengals into a 7-7 tie.
After Adam Vinatieri's 38-yard field goal gave New England a 10-7 lead, Mitchell's crisp 1:54 drill got the Bengals a Neil Rackers' 32-yard field goal at the half-time gun.
Mitchell's 12 of 20 passing for 144 yards in the half already gave the Bengals their most passing yards in a game since they had 159 against the Dolphins Oct. 1.
Midway through the second quarter, Mitchell, in place of Akili Smith, waved Warrick past cornerback Ty Law into the end zone's right corner and Mitchell floated it up before Law turned his head back to the play. It was Warrick's second touchdown catch of the season and his first and the team's first since Oct. 1.
Warrick, having his best day since getting 75 yards in the second game of the season, also caught an 18-yard pass in the 11-play touchdown drive. Warrickk finished the half with five catches for 51 yards.
Mitchell hit three of his three passes for 41 of the drive's 79 yards with running backs Corey Dillon and Brandon Bennett doing the rest. Dillon 47 yards on 13 carries in the first half.
But their problems in the secondary continued. Nickel cornerback Artrell Hawkins got benched in favor rookie Mark Roman after Pats receiver Troy Brown beat Hawkins to convert a third-and-11and set up Vinatieri's field goal.
A turnover put the Bengals into another early hole on the road.
Moments after Patriots strong safety Lawyer Milloy stripped Bennett of the ball to set up the Patriots at the Cincinnati 29, New England took a 7-0 lead with 1:57 left in the first quarter on running back Tony Carter's first touchdown of his career from one yard out.
The Bengals forced Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe into a third-and-three on that drive, but Hawkins let Brown get inside him on a pass in the middle and then missed the tackle as Brown wriggled to the Cincinnati 8.
The Bengals got a break when the Patriots didn't play their top two running backs and turned to seventh-round pick Patrick Pass. But Pass picked up 33 yards on his first six carries.
But Mitchell's first pass of the game turned into the Bengals' first completion to a wide receiver of at least 20 yards since Oct. 15. It came off a play-action fake to Dillon and gained 20 yards when Craig Yeast came back for the ball on the right sideline.
Mitchell picked up 15 more yards on the next play on a pass over the middle to tight end Tony McGee. But the drive stalled after eight yards on two carries by Dillon when Mitchell couldn't connect with Yeast on a rollout pass.
During the Bengals' first two series, Mitchell used quick three-and five-step drops to got the ball to three of his wideouts, including a 10-yard slant to rookie Danny Farmer on third-and-four.
The Bengals needed some good news on their pass rush and they got it before the game when defensive tackle John Copeland passed pre-game warmups.
Copeland, suffering from a slightly bulging back disk, practiced only on Friday and was listed as questionable all week.
The Bengals hoped Copeland and fellow defensive tackle Oliver Gibson could take advantage of the Patriots' struggle protecting quarterback Drew Bledsoe in the interior of the offensive line. Left guard Joe Andruzzi allowed two sacks last week and the Pats came into the game allowing the third most sacks in the NFL with 37.
But the Bengals could only get to Bledsoe once in the first half.