BY GEOFF HOBSON
With quarterback Akili Smith knocked from the game because of dizziness, the dormant Bengals running game came alive in the third quarter Sunday as Cincinnati stormed to its first second-half lead of the season.
Backup running back Brandon Bennett ran over two Denver safeties on a 19-yard touchdown run to give the Bengals a 17-14 lead with about eight minutes left in the quarter.
Bennett was in the game because starting running back Corey Dillon had just ripped off a 25-yard run and needed a blow because he already had rushed for 150 yards against a defense ranked second in the NFL.
Earlier, Bengals rookie receiver Peter Warrick woke up the echoes and the offense when his 77-yard touchdown run off a reverse cut Denver's lead to 14-10 at halftime.
Warrick ended up giving the ball to quarterback Akili Smith after he reached the end zone because Smith had as much to do with the offense's first touchdown in seven quarters, secured with 5:29 left in the second quarter at Paul Brown Stadium.
On the first play after running back Mike Anderson gave Denver a 14-3 lead on a four-yard touchdown run, Warrick ran a sweep right behind a load of blockers.
With nowhere to go, Warrick cut it back left and with Denver overpursuing, it was just him and Smith against Denver cornerback Terrell Buckley. Smith hand checked Buckley all the way down the left sideline for the longest run by a Bengal receiver since Warren McVea went 80 yards in 1968.
The Bengals' offense broke its 120-minute scoring drought early in the second quarter, but they wished it was more when kicker Neil Rackers hit 24-yard field goal in the first three minutes of the second quarter. Rackers' kick cut Denver's lead to 7-3 and ended the Bengals' 12-play drive at the Denver six-yard line.
But moments earlier, a personal foul penalty on Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski had given the Bengals a first down on the Denver 3. Two runs to running back Corey Dillon pushed Cincinnati backward and on third down Smith collided with Dillon in the backfield to short-circuit Smith's rollout pass attempt.
Yet the Cincinnati pass offense showed signs of busting out of its dreadful slump. Smith and tight end Tony McGee converted a third-and-12 on a 25-yard play that put Cincinnati in the red zone for just the 10th time this season.
Then Warrick converted another long third down, when he made a diving catch on an inside slant.
Dillon was also prolific, busting out of Denver's eight-man front for some long gains against a defense giving up just 65 yards pre game. Dillon finished the half with 77 yards on nine carries and his 31-yarder on the drive's first play set the tone.
Ironically, the game looked to turn to Denver on one of Dillon's bursts. Dillon ripped off 21 yards, but as he fell on the Denver 35 he fumbled when Romanowski punched the ball out.
The Broncos recovered and went on a nine-play drive that culminated in Anderson's touchdown and was highlighted by quarterback Brian Griese's 35-yard pass to wide open tight end Dwayne Carswell against a first-and-20 blitz.
For the third straight game, the Bengals' defense allowed points on the game's first possession. On Sunday, it was the Broncos' effortless 12-play, 80-yard drive consuming the game's first 6:47 that put the Bengals into a 7-0 hole.
Griese got the score when he found backup fullback Detron Smith for a one-yard touchdown pass. It was Smith's first run or catch of the season in place of the injured Howard Griffith.
It was also Griese's 15th touchdown pass of the season, one more than he had in all of '99.
Seeking to slow down the NFL's sixth-best running game, the Bengals changed up their defensive line, but the unit offered no resistance on Denver's first drive and allowed the Broncos to rush for 107 yards in the first half..
Griese hurt the Bengals on two eight-yard scrambles and running back Mike Anderson ripped off 44 yards on six carries in the drive behind an offensive line that cleared out Cincinnati's front seven.
After 92 starts at end, John Copeland moves inside to tackle. Michael Bankston moves from left end to right and Vaughn Booker makes his first appearance since his fainting episode Sept. 17 in Jacksonville. Oliver Gibson, off a solid game against Steelers Pro Bowl center Dermontti Dawson, remains at tackle.
But the Bengals went into the game against the Broncos' relentless offensive line one defensive lineman short. Defensive line coach Tim Krumrie felt he had to deactivate tackle Tom Barndt to rest the injured shoulder that has nagged him since early in training camp.
The Bengals also deactivated fullback Nick Williams and cornerback Mark Roman. The Bengals had been alternating Roman and fellow rookie cornerback Robert Bean each game on the active list, but Bean is playing in the dime package and Roman is sitting for the second straight week.
The Bengals also like Bean's work on special teams. When the Bengals had to punt twice on their first series because of penalty, Bean downed the first kick on the Denver 4-yard line and the second on the Broncos' 8.