Bengals struggle early

8-10-01, 8:15 P.M.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

PONTIAC, Mich. _ As Friday night's first quarter ended, the Bengals had to be looking for any way out of their personal torture chamber known as the Pontiac Silverdome.

Quarterback Akili Smith was sacked four times on the Bengals' first three series, fumbled once, and was knocked to the turf at least twice more against a suffocating pass rush as the Lions dominated early in the game.

On Detroit's second play of the night, quarterback Charlie Batch took adavantage of a blown coverage and hit wide-open wide receiver Johnny Morton down the right sideline for a 47-yard touchdown 1:49 into the Matt Millen era for a 7-0 lead that stood up for the rest of the first quarter.

The only positive note for the Bengals came when Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon took the first two snaps, didn't touch the ball, and left the same field unscathed where six years before Ki-Jana Carter tore up his knee.

Backup right tackle Jamain Stephens, playing for injured Willie Anderson (ankle) appeared to be one of the players struggling on the pass rush. The disturbing thing is that the Lions were playing without two of their starting linemen in Tracy Scroggins and Luther Elliss.

Smith managed to scramble for one first down

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on third-and-nine, but running back Brandon Bennett dropped a third-down pass, Smith overthrew receiver Darnay Scott on a bomb, and he missed Peter Warrick on a third-down pass when he got drilled to the turf.

The Bengals' first-team offense sought its first touchdown of the season since poor protection hampered Kitna's outing in the first half last week. He threw for just 65 yards against constant pressure while the Bengals converted one of seven third-down tries in a first half they managed just 98 yards.

Smith, who led the Bengals to their only touchdown last week in Chicago, was set to work the first quarter and a half and then come back in the fourth quarter.

Kitna, last week's starter, is to finish the second quarter and Scott Mitchell makes his return to the Pontiac Silverdome in the third quarter as Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau continues his quarterback derby in the second pre-season game.

Bengals outside linebackers Takeo Spikes (ankle) and Steve Foley (shoulder) didn't play, giving more work to Canute Curtis and Armegis Spearman.

The Lions were without wide receivers Herman Moore (shoulder) and Germane Crowell (thigh), as well as tight end David Sloan.

In other news, tackle Mike Doughty says he's still trying to decide if he'll re-join the team after walking out of camp last Monday night disappoined with his chances of making the roster.

If Doughty doesn't come back by Monday, he won't be able to play for any other team while the Bengals keep his rights.

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