BY GEOFF HOBSON
INDIANAPOLIS _ Is the glass half empty or half full?
For the first time in a long time Saturday night, the Bengals didn't play well and still won, 22-10, here over the Colts when they survived 14 penalties and two turnovers. But their first-team offense managed only a field goal against a defense that gave up the most points in the NFL last season.
They are 2-0 in the preseason for the first time in 13 years. But their first team has been outscored in the first half, 27-17, the past two weeks.
It looks like last year, with a superb defense carrying an offense that can't break a big play. The offense's longest play this year is running back Rudi Johnson's 39-yard run, and the wide receivers have yet to catch a pass longer than 18 yards.
But then again, Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon and wide receivers Michael Westbrook and Danny Farmer haven't played yet, and their best receiver in practice, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, didn't play against the Colts.
Yet the glass is overflowing in more than a few spots. It's clear the Bengals have pounded the Bills and Colts the past two weeks with their depth, and on Saturday night here in the RCA Dome they won the kind of game they usually don't. Plus, their pass protection has been flawless and their defense looks as good as ever.
"We're learning that we have enough good players on our team that if we're patient, and we can just hang in there, we can come back and win games," said left tackle Richmond Webb, part of a position group that hasn't allowed a sack this season.
Quarterback Gus Frerotte: "
We won as a team and that showed a lot of poise. We got in some bad situations and we overcame some of them. We kept playing and playing hard, and no one out there put their head down."
"They took some things away from us at times," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "We were semi-productive. It's not what we wanted, but they're a well-coached team and we gave the quarterback time for them to compete."
Their reserves have demolished the opposition the past two weeks. Johnson and Curtis Keaton, vying for the No. 3 running back spot, have combined for 344 yards. On Saturday night, they stifled the Colts on 12 yards in the second half to help the Bengals score 22 unanswered points.
"This is what happens when everybody works hard in practice and busts their butts," said backup defensive lineman Glen Steele, who had two sacks in the second half. "I don't think this team is like last year's team. This group of guys gets together here and works hard. It's a different team. I think you can see that on the field."
And the one thing they have accomplished is giving head coach Dick LeBeau "the look," he seeks. LeBeau liked the fact his team overcame a half-time deficit for the second straight week and that they held their poise late in the game, when the Colts were called once for roughing the kicker and once for a late hit.
"That was a real positive when Jon (Kitna) led us to that field goal at the end of the half," LeBeau said. "Right now, our guys are saying, 'Hey Coach, take a look at me,' and that's good." **
MORE CUTS:** On Monday morning, the Bengals cut three players to slice their roster to 73. Tight end Kirk McMullen, who played in seven games last year with two starts, got released, as did college free agents in wide receiver Michael Slater (Murray State) and fullback Harold Jackson (Temple). The club has to be down to 65 players by 4 p.m. Aug. 27.
FIRST ONE A GEM: Free safety Lamont Thompson hadn't been wondering, but others were wondering when the Bengals' prized rookie would come up with his first interception from scrimmage in practice or a game.
Thompson turned out to have all the timing of a late night monologue. He not only intercepted a future Hall-of Famer in Peyton Manning Saturday night, but he also bailed the Bengals' defense out of a shaky first drive in which Manning flogged them for
eight minutes, particularly on third down. But those were his only three third-down conversions on his three scoreless series. On second-and-16 from the Bengals 32, Manning felt heat from the inside and lofted a bad ball that Thompson tracked down in the middle at his 5 before returning it 38 yards.
"I was fortunate. He didn't throw a good pass and it was more like a fair catch," Thompson said. "I credit the defensive line and the defensive coordinator. It was a zone blitz and the pressure made him get rid of it."
The Bengals put good pressure on Manning, a quarterback known for his quick release who doesn't take sacks. The Bengals got him once when tackle Oliver Gibson dumped him on the first play of the game, but he also hung in there to convert his three third-down passes on that first drive.
Yet the Bengals' secondary, without starting cornerback Artrell Hawkins (knee), responded starting with Thompson's interception.
On the next series, Hawkins' replacement, Kevin Kaesviharn, broke up a third-and-seven pass to Qadry Ismail by reaching around him from behind. On Manning's last series, a three-and-out, nickel back Rodney Heath muscled Pro Bowl receiver Marvin Harrison a yard shy of the first down, which seemed to enrage Harrison into an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
On those last two drives, Thompson sensed the secondary getting a handle on the third-down problem.
"As a secondary, we have to close it out on third down when we've got the chance," Thompson said. "I think it's just a matter of knowing where the chains are on the field and then just playing."
Someone saved the ball for him so he could record his first interception.
"Even if it doesn't count," Thompson said. "It's something I'm used to doing and it feels good to get one."
KICKING DERBY:** Rookie Travis Dorsch crept back into the kicking competition Saturday when he made his first two field-goal tries of his career from 29 and 33 yards. Neil Rackers countered by making his only kick of the night, a 42-yarder, but did better on his kickoffs .On his three kickoffs, Rackers drove them one-yard deep in the end zone, to the 1, and to the goal line. Dorsch hit his three to the Colts' 10, four- and seven-yard lines.
BACKS ON PARADE: Maybe they can't cut either Rudi Johnson or Curtis Keaton. The Bengals have two 100-yard games and Corey Dillon hasn't touched the ball yet. Johnson bulled to his second-straight 100-yard game with 103 on 22 carries and Keaton quicked his way to 5.6 yards per carry on his 16 rushes for 89 yards.
Maybe Johnson did a little better in the passing game with three catches for 24 yards while Keaton didn't have
a catch, but Keaton did just fine in scoring his second touchdown of the preseason. That was after he rebounded from losing a fumble at his own 44-yard line in the second quarter that set up a Colts' field goal.
"I thought I was down," Keaton said of the play. "But I'm glad I was able to come back and get something done. It seems like that's been my whole career. It's been uphill all the way. I don't know where it stands, but we've got two games left."
The 218-pound Johnson has been telling people that he punishes defenders instead of running away from them, but that's what he did when he converted a clock-killing third-and-11 run for 39 yards in the middle of the fourth quarter. He ran out of room at the Colts' 40, where cornerback Nick Harper pushed him out-of-bounds.
"When you get the ball in your hands, you do what is called for," Johnson said. "Things like that come from keeping my feet moving. Someone told me how many yards I had and I can't believe that."
Probably because he got 19 in the last two minutes on his last four carries, which is what they like about Johnson. He gets better the longer the game goes. Keaton also showed why the Bengals like his speed. Johnson started the game, but Keaton broke out fast on the dome Turf with eight carries for 49 yards in the first half while Johnson was only getting six yards on three carries. **
MIXED DEBUT:** The Bengals had a tough time going down field against the Colts' persistent two-deep coverage and the quarterbacks had to opt for underneath routes.
So like No. 1 tight end Sean Brewer last week with three catches for 42 yards, No. 2 tight end Matt Schobel had a solid pro debut catching the ball four times for 33 yards and converting two third downs. And he nearly scored a touchdown when Akili Smith rifled
a four-yard pass to him in a crowd, but he got stopped on the two-yard line.
His holding penalty on Keaton's 12-yard run at the end of the first half wiped out a touchdown and the Bengals had to settle for a field goal.
"I'm ready to see the film," Schobel said. "I know I need to work on a lot of things, like my back-side blocking. But I felt pretty comfortable catching the ball. They were playing cover 2 and there was some room.."
INJURY UPDATE: Dillon (foot) should make his first appearance of the preseason next Saturday against the Saints at Paul Brown Stadium. So should CB Artrell Hawkins (knee), WR Danny Farmer (hamstring), and DE Eric Ogbogu (calf) since trainer Paul Sparling called them all probable
after Saturday night's game.
So are four players dinged against the Colts: SS JoJuan Armour (groin), RT Victor Leyva (ankle), G Scott Rehberg (knee), and T Jamain Stephens (shoulder). Rookie free safety Stephon Kelly (quad) is out next week.
RB Brandon Bennett (toe) is expected to return next Saturday after missing the Colts' game, as is CB Robert Bean (foot). They are probable. LOLB Steve Foley (hip/groin) is doubtful. LB Armegis Spearman (hip) is questionable. ROLB Takeo Spikes (shoulder) and WR Michael Westbrook (wrist) are out.