Bengals struggle early

BY GEOFF HOBSON

JACKSONVILLE _ The Bengals' bid for a quick start today against the Jaguars got flattened when a penalty and Tremain Mack's fumbled kickoff staked Jacksonville to a 10-0 lead in the first 9:23. The special teams betrayed them again midway through the second quarter when rookie kicker Neil Rackers shoved a 44-yard field goal try to the left.

Cincinnati's effort to establish the run here in a downpour at ALLTEL Stadium was also hampered by three holding penalties on the offensive line on the first five plays.

The game opened with the Cincinnati defense apparently holding the Jaguars without a first down on the first two series. But when Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell killed the second drive by throwing the ball out of bounds on third down, Bengals cornerback Tom Carter was called for holding receiver Jimmy Smith along the sideline.

It was an automatic first down and for Brunell's 93.7 passing rating, that was dangerous. Three plays later he saw receiver Keenan McCardell running past cornerback Artrell Hawkins to the left corner and hit him for a 21-yard touchdown pass.

On the ensuing kickoff, Mack fumbled the wet ball at his own 17 a week after Craig Yeast's fumbled punt deep in Cincinnati territory led to a Cleveland touchdown. This time the Bengals held the Jags to a 30-yard field goal, the first of Steve Lindsey's career in place of the injured Mike Hollis.

The Bengals could nothing in the first quarter on offense, keeping the ball less than five minutes for just 22 yards after holds on left tackle Rod Jones, right guard Mike Goff and right tackle Willie Anderson.

Cincinnati's best plays came on the running of Smith as he was chased out of the pocket. Smith wheeled away from the rush to hit rookie receiver Peter Warrick over the middle for a 14-yard gain on third-and-12, but Rackers ended the drive by missing his second field goal try of the season as he still seeks his first NFL field goal.

The Jaguars' home opener should have been broadcast on the Weather Channel. With Hurricane Gordon stalking Florida, the game began under a tornado watch and a tropical storm warning with winds expected to gust in the 40 mile-per-hour range. Bengals kicker Neil Rackers began the game with a kickoff into a steady rain that shortly turned into a downpour.

Tight end Tony McGee made his team-leading 105th straight start for the Bengals with a sprained right ankle and bruised left toes. Jags running back Fred Taylor was inactive with an injured knee.

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