Bengals trail at half, 7-6

BY GEOFF HOBSON

IRVING, Texas _ The Cowboys Hall-of-Fame combination of quarterback Troy Aikman and running back Emmitt Smith surfaced in the second quarter here Sunday to stake Dallas to a 7-6 half-time lead over the Bengals.

The Bengals survived all sorts of bullets from the Cowboys here during the first half in getting field goals of 22 and 37 yards from Neil Rackers.. Dallas kicker Tim Seder missed field-goal attempts from 39 and 44 yards, and Smith fumbled on the one-foot line to end the Cowboys' first series of the game.

But Aikman, the lowest-rated passer in the NFC who missed last week's game with a back injury, hit 12 of his first 13 passes for 175 yards and looked his old nimble self against an invisible Cincinnati pass rush.

On the play before Aikman's 35-yard touchdown pass to receiver James McKnight with 8:30 left in the second quarter, Aikman got flushed out of the pocket. As he ran to the sideline, Aikman underhanded a flip over outside linebacker Steve Foley to a wide open Smith in the flat for a 19-yard gain.

Aikman then lofted a bomb down the right sideline, where McKnight fought with cornerback Tom Carter for position in the end zone. Aikman did McKnight a favor by underthrowing the ball and McKnight just had to turn around for the catch. **The Bengals took aim at Dallas' rush defense, ranked last in the NFL, and racked up 103 yards in the first half with Corey Dillon picking up 63 on 14 carries.

But the Bengals' last-rated pass offense still couldn't get untracked and they had to settle for Rackers' field goals.

Bengals quarterback Akili Smith hit six of his first 12 passes, yet could manage just 31 yards as they continue to search for their first completion of 20 yards or more to a wide receiver since Oct. 15 and their first touchdown pass since Oct. 1.

The Bengals' first scoring drive of 16 plays and 67 yards was costly because left tackle John Jackson re-injured his hamstring and was lost for the rest of the game.

Backup running back Brandon Bennett converted two third-down situations through the heart of the Cowboys' injury-riddled front as Cincinnati put the ball on the Dallas 8.

But from there the Bengals were unsuccessful sending Dillon wide against the speedy Dallas defense. They then tried passes on second and third down, with Akili Smith overthrowing receiver Peter Warrick in the end zone.

The Bengals stalled on their next series after an 11-yard run put the ball on the Dallas 20. Smith's incomplete pass on first down led to Rackers' 37-yard field goal.

Bengals free safety Darryl Williams forced Emmitt Smith to fumble on the Cincinnati one-foot line on Dallas' first series and that set a strange tone. The Bengals held Smith and his No. 8 rush offense to 13 yards in the first half.

But Aikman's No. 27 pass offense continually fried the Bengals as he finished 14 of 20 passing for 197 yards in the first half.

In pre-game planning Sunday morning, the Bengals leaned to giving second-year fullback Nick Williams his first NFL start here against the Cowboys.

But the Bengals chose Dillon alone in the backfield behind a double tight end set.

But incumbent starter Clif Groce's sprained knee ligament is apparently still not 100 percent after he missed the last two games.

Williams and Groce probably will rotate as the Bengals try to pound the running game against Dallas.

Sunday's conditions certainly called for the running game as the game was mostly in rain and temperatures were hanging in the mid-50s.

In other club news Sunday, agent Marvin Demoff confirmed Dillon has ended his relationship with him. Dillon is a free agent after the season, but he has yet to reveal the name of his new representative.

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