8-10-01, 9:30 P.M.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
PONTIAC, Mich. _ Jon Kitna led the first offense to a late second quarter field goal to pull the Bengals within 17-10 of the Lions at halftime and just may have pulled himself into the lead of the team's quarterback derby in the process.
Kitna, who threw a bad interception on his previous drive to give the Lions a field goal, rebounded with a 10-play, 65-yard drive in 2:20 that resulted in Richie Cunningham's 26-yard field goal.
The fact the Bengals were that close was amazing after a shoddy first half. The offensive line continued its early-season woes and gave up six sacks in the half alone.
Wide receiver Darnay Scott fumbled the ball away inside the Lions 10, the Lions Larry Foster returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown, and quarterback Akili Smith was flagged for two delay-of-game penalties.
But Kitna, 6 of 11 for 75 yards, hit Scott on a nine-yard slant pattern for a touchdown that cut Detroit's lead to 14-7 with 6:19 left in the first half.
"We came out slow, but we got the game stabilized by halftime," said Bengals coach Dick LeBeau. "That was a good two-minute drive."
Kitna's touchdown pass was his first throw in relief of Smith during an outing in which Smith didn't get any help at all from the shaky line.
Smith bobbed and weaved, hitting two of six passes for 78 yards. Rookie wide receiver Chad Johnson outfought cornerback Chidi Iwuoma for Smith's end-zone heave at midfield, and a few players later Smith hit Scott for a 27-yarder near the Lions' five-yard line, but he fumbled the ball away.
Other than that, Smith had to feel he was stuck in last year's time warp. He was sacked four times on the Bengals' first three series, fumbled twice, and was knocked to the turf at least twice more against a suffocating pass rush.
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.
Then early in the second quarter, long snapper Brad St. Louis got down field but couldn't corral Foster on an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown that gave the Lions a 14-0 lead.
But free safety Chris Carter got the Bengals back in it when he picked off backup quarterback Jim Harbaugh over the middle and returned it to the Lions 16 to set up Scott's touchdown.
On a third-and-short, Kitna saw Scott matched one-on-one with cornerback Robert Bailey and jammed it into him for Kitna's first touchdown pass a Bengal.
One of the only positive notes 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
on third-and-nine, but running back Brandon Bennett dropped a third-down pass, Smith overthrew 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 in Chicago.
In his two-minute drill, Kitna found Warrick twice for 31 yards, tight end Tony McGee once for 21 yards and got Cunningham into position on a nine-yard pass to Scott.
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.
Scott Mitchell made his return to the Pontiac Silverdome in the third quarter to a chorous of boos.
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.