Bengals withstand opening surge

9-14-03, 6:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

OAKLAND, Calif. _ The Bengals flashed what their new era under coach Marvin Lewis is supposed to be all about here Sunday when they withstood a 10-point binge in the game's first five and a half minutes and took a 10-10 tie into halftime here against the Raiders.

On a day Ravens running back Jamal Lewis broke Corey Dillon's NFL one-game rushing record with 295 yards against Cleveland, Dillon re-discovered the Bengals' own running game in racking up 71 yards on 16 carries in the first half. His one-yard run for a touchdown capped a vintage Marvin Lewis drive of 14 plays that consumed 7:20.

But a hyperextend right knee made Dillon's return in the second half questionable. He came back to make one run on the second series of the second half, but his six-yard gain gain got negated by a holding call on tight end Tony Stewart.

Still, when the cautious Oakland offense got booed off the field by RaiderNation at halftime, it marked a dramatic change in a game that began with the Raiders taking a 10-0 lead before the Bengals got a first down.

It was the Bengals' defensive backs that were the stars of the first half. Even though NFL MVP Rich Gannon had plenty of time to throw, the Raider wide receivers were tightly covered. Jerry Rice had 40 yards on four catches and Tim Brown had just one catch for seven yards in the first half. And Gannon had just 55 yards passing. Bengals cornerback Tory James, playing the team he helped to the Super Bowl last season, was superb with two passes defensed, one on a third-down blitz.

The Bengals rode some big plays on third down to get back into it. Quarterback Jon Kitna, who took a 10-yard sack up the middle by linebacker Napoleon Harris on the game's first snap, symbolized how his team recovered their poise. Trailing, 10-0, on third and three from his 26 and the ugliness bubbling,

Kitna hit wide receiver Peter Warrick for a 30-yard play down the middle, and went on to finish the half 7-for-13 passing for 100 yards.

When Dillon responded with a 13-yard gain by busting an inside play outside to the left, the Bengals were at the Raider 31 and were rolling for the first time all season.

But the Raiders did what the Bengals couldn't do and sniffed out a reverse to Warrick for just a two-yard gain, and the Bengals had to settle for Shayne Graham's 31-yard field goal.

The Bengals then got a shot to tie it at 10 when the Raiders lost some poise of their own. Warrick failed to track down a third-down bomb in the end zone, but Raiders linebacker Rod Coleman was called for the first of his two roughing penalties on Kitna.

Then, when Kitna hit a 13-yard slant to tight end Matt Schobel on third-and-5, the Bengals had the ball at the Oakland 6.

It took them six plays to score, and when they went for it on fourth-and-1 from the 1, the Bengals got a pass interference call on linebacker Bill Romanowski covering tackle eligible Levi Jones in the end zone.

Dillon then punched it over the left side for the score with 11:46 left in the half. The Bengals, who switched their offensive line during the week to start Rich Braham, also rotated in the benched Matt O'Dwyer at times in an effort to get some running room.

The Bengals came out and did exactly what they didn't want to do. They let the rowdy Network Associates Coliseum crowd rock-and-roll into the game right away as the Raiders used a bad call to build that 10-0 lead before the Bengals had a first down.

When the Bengals went three-and-out on the first series of the game and got a poor 34-yard punt by Nick Harris, that allowed the Raiders to put the ball on the Bengals 30 barely two minutes into it, the masked audience in the stands sounded like jackals going in for the kill.

Then after Sebastian Janikowski gave Oakland a 3-0 lead on a 40-yard field goal, Bengals defensive end Carl Powell picked up an unnecessary roughness penalty on the play, allowing Janikowski to drill the ensuing kickoff into the crowd for a touchback.

Another three-and-out on offense, and then disaster. The Bengals' defense, which had been stung by reverses in the opener, let it happen again on the fourth snap against the Raiders when running back Justin Fargas went 53 yards the other way. He used missed tackles by middle linebacker Kevin Hardy and strong safety Rogers Beckett just inserted into the starting lineup in place of Marquand Manuel to get the room.

But replays showed that at the end of the run, cornerback Jeff Burris caused a fumble at the Bengals 5 that was recovered by Cincinnati. Lewis threw the challenge flag, but a play blown dead by the whistle can't be challenged, and the play stood. Three plays later, running back Tyrone Wheatley scored from two yards out to make it 10-0 just 5:33 into the game.

The Bengals, who already re-worked their secondary before the game by deactivating their last two cornerbacks (Dennis Weathersby and Terrell Roberts), had to do it during the game when third corner Artrell Hawkins went out with a cervical strain in the first few series, but returned.

The Bengals also got hurt early on special teams early when backup linebacker Riall Johnson strained a calf.

Both coaches made game-time changes in their starting secondaries. Because of injuries, the Raiders moved cornerback Terrance Shaw to free safety and started Phillip Buchanon opposite Charles Woodson at cornerback.

The Bengals' defense came in trying to rebound from Denver running back Clinton Portis' 120 rushing yards. Portis, who came out with 90 in the first half, hurt the Bengals when they had no one getting to the perimeter.

"Most of the time, you don't want backs to go north and south, and Denver was going east and west, but they were running downhill," Hardy said. "We want to get them going a little north and south, but then turn them back inside."

Hardy tipped his hat to Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan for his use of different formations, but he didn't expect the Raiders to be as multiple

"A lot of teams don't have the personnel Denver has," Hardy said. "Not every team is going to be able to do what they do. Shanahan did an excellent job of using their strengths. Jake Plummer isn't at his best right now, and when you'd think they'd be coming with the boot or the pass, they just ended up running it. You've got to be sound."

Dillon's NFL record stood for just 42 games after he broke the record Walter Payton had for 23 years.

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