Bengals trail Jets, 7-0

8-10-03, 3:10 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. _ The Bengals' New Day got off to a sleepy start here Sunday when the Jets cashed a fumble for a touchdown in the first five minutes of the preseason for a 7-0 lead that held up for the first half and much of the third quarter.

Another fumble short-circuited the Bengals' best scoring chance, a 38-yard field attempt late in the second quarter that never came off when holder Nick Harris appeared to drop the snap and scrambled away to throw an incomplete pass.

As they played in a steady rain at Giants Stadium that sometimes became a downpour, the Bengals' first and second defenses kept a shaky offense and special teams in the game with big plays in their own territory in holding the Jets to just 85 yards of offense in the first half.

Middle linebacker Kevin Hardy intercepted backup Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde at the Bengals 21 and defensive end Duane Clemons forced another turnover late in the half when he sacked rookie quarterback Brooks Bollinger and forced a fumble recoverd by linebacker Riall Johnson at the Bengals 29. Plus,defensive end Justin Smith stuffed the Jets on third and fourth downs with a yard to go for the first.

The Bengals' offense was not only bogged down by the weather, but also the absence of four wide receivers, three because of injuries and one because of a mystery surrounding third-round draft pick Kelley Washington. Washington made the trip Saturday, but was excused Sunday for personal reasons. The team and Washington's agent wouldn't elaborate.

The offense could manage just 45 yards and two first downs in the half with quarterbacks Jon Kitna and Shane Matthews each playing a quarter. Running back Corey Dillon carried once for five yards, his first work in a pre-season opener in four years, but the running game was non-existent in the first half with 28 yards on 13 carries.

Matthews led the half's best drive, a seven play, 40-yarder from the Bengals 40 that reached the Jets' 20 with the big plays a 14-yard run and catch by fullback Chris Edmonds and an 11-yard catch by free-agent rookie receiver Adam Ziesel.

But with 4:22 left in the half, Harris mishandled the snap on Neil Rackers' field-goal try, and Matthews left after completing eight of 11 passes for 51 yards.

Kitna could manage just 24 yards on four of six passing. And, on the third play of the game, Kitna, working under Mike Goff, a transplanted guard making his first start at center, fumbled the snap at the Bengals' 39 and it was recovered by nose tackle Jason Ferguson. The Jets took nine plays to score with the big play a 21-yard pass to wide receiver Santana Moss on second-and-seven, a wide-open play in the middle of a Bengals' zone. Three plays later on third down from the 1, running back Lamont Jordan punched it in over the Bengals' left side for the first score of the season.

Shorts punts each by Harris (22 yards) and Travis Dorsch (28), as well as two holding calls on one punt put tremendous pressure on a first-team defense and it responded.

Justin Smith, with help from tackle Tony Williams and Hardy, stuffed the Jets on third and fourth downs with about a yard to go from the Bengals 48 on the game's second series. The Jets didn't play running back Curtis Martin, and the Bengals held everyone else to 57 yards on 21 carries in the half.

Besides Washington, the Bengals also didn't have in their receiving corps T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hamstring), Ron Dugans (Achilles') and Kwazeon Leverette (toe).

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