Big, bizarre play

8-5-01, 12:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

CHICAGO _ It took Akili Smith 10 months to go from goat to hero. On Saturday night, it took Bengals cornerback Robert Bean just 63 yards to go from hero to goat.

Bean looked as if he had literally got the Bengals off on the right foot this season when he flashed in front of Bears receiver Glyn Milburn to intercept a pass at his own 25 with about 15 seconds left in a 13-13 game and high-stepped down the sideline for what at least looked like a shot at a chippy field goal to win it.

But Bean couldn't negotiate past Bears quarterback Danny Wuerffel at the Bears 15, giving Milburn time to punch the ball from Bean and force a fumble recovered by the Bears at their own 9 to create overtime.

"I'll tell him to possess the ball when he makes a play like that," said Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau, nearly an hour after the fumble. "We would have been on the airplane now going back to Cincinnati."

Instead, the fumble guaranteed a press box's worst nightmare: An overtime preseason game that seemed to last longer than the last presidential election. Actually, until Paul Edinger kicked a 48-yard field goal with 41 seconds left in the OT, the Florida count had been more decisive.

"I was thinking about the touchdown. I had enough field," Bean said. "If I had to do it again, I would have

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covered the ball and gone out of bounds. (The ball) was a little wet. But I'll learn from my mistake.

"I cut back on him," said Bean of his confrontation with Wuerffel, "and the other guys came in from behind me. . .They had run a couple of routes like that early in the game and I made a nice little play on it hoping to score. I was a little winded. I was running out of gas."

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BAD VIBES?:** When Bean pulled the Bill Buckner, there could have been some here-we-go-again rumblings in the locker room. But captains Willie Anderson and Takeo Spikes pooh-poohed it.

"Hey, the guy made a great play," Anderson said. "Think about the play he made. He had us in position to win. We have to make plays like that."

Spikes thought this was the classic LeBeau game.

"That's what LeBeau is all about," Spikes said. "We didn't quit. We were behind all game, but we kept fighting, we didn't quit, and we had a shot to win it at the end."

OLD AND NEW: Wide receivers coach Steve Mooshagian has compared his race to Gore-Bush: "It changes every day and we've got two Chads (Johnson and Plummer) that are hanging in there."

Chad Johnson, the second-round pick, came as advertised. He caught four balls for 62 yards with his go-get-it attitude and outplayed David Terrell, one of the handful of receivers taken ahead of Johnson in the first round. Terrell, who didn't report to camp until last week, caught two balls for 19 yards.

Meanwhile, Johnson's mentor, eight-year receiver Darnay Scott, wasted no time catching his first ball since 1999. On the Bengals' first play of the season, quarterback Jon Kitna hit Scott on a six-yard sideline route.

"It happened so fast," Scott said as he proclaimed no problems with his broken leg. "I was thinking, 'Damn, it's over already.' I was glad to get that. . .I was just looking to break a little sweat and see if I have my wind under my belt and I do."

Scott, who played the first three series, spent his night tutoring Johnson. He kept on him about keeping his talking and bumping cornerbacks after the play to a minimum.

"He's the real deal, now," Scott said. "I was trying to tell him that he

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doesn't t have to take it into every play out there. It's cool to push around a few times. But three, four times and you've got to stop that stuff. He'll learn. He's jamming up with the DBs instead of going back to the huddle and relaxing."

Johnson has been in camp since Day One and it showed. He hooked up with Kitna on the club's longest pass of the night, a 25-yarder, and added a leaping 16-yard catch over the middle.

"It's a lot of fun. You can expect a lot more," Johnson said. "It's really no different than college. It's a lot faster."

Johnson understands what Scott is trying to tell him.

"I don't want to be talking myself tired," Johnson said. "I'm doing out there what I have to do, but at the same time I was talking every play. He said I'm taking too much energy."

New offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski pretty much kept the wraps on his prized speedsters.

"I was looking to go long at least one play, but we weren't going downtown," Scott said.

BACKS ON PARADE: Don't look for Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon to run from scrimmage until Aug. 25 against the Bills in the Paul Brown Stadium season opener. He didn't take a snap Saturday night after sitting out last week's intrasquad scrimmage. And it's doubtful they will play him Friday on the Detroit Astroturf that claimed Ki-Jana Carter's knee six years ago.

"I want to play. I tell them I want to play," Dillon said. "But I'm not going to go against the coaches. It's their call and I do what they say."

LeBeau needs Dillon's snaps to get a look at everybody in a race that now may be as hot as the scrums at wide receiver, quarterback and on the defensive line.

After Brandon Bennett's fumble led to the Bears' first field goal, Curtis Keaton and rookie Rudi Johnson _ the Bengals' last two fourth-round picks – made some moves.

The quick, slippery Keaton made a serious roster push by leading all rushers with 87 yards on 16 carries that included four runs of 10 yards or more. Johnson held his own with 52 yards on 13 carries as the Bengals rushed for 231 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per rush in outgaining Chicago on total offense by 344-328.

Big back Michael Basnight checked in with 35 yards on nine carries, but got stopped on a fourth-and-1 from the Bears 29 in the third quarter.

GETTING THEIR KICKS: If you think the quarterback derby is murky, what about kicker and punter?

Neil Rackers, of Illinois, returned to his college stomping grounds by drilling a 52-yard field goal. When the Bears were called for encroachment, he hit the ensuing 47-yarder. Then on the first play of the fourth quarter, Richie Cunningham kicked a 30-yarder.

LeBeau passed up a shot at a 54-yard field goal late in OT, indicating to his team later that he had confidence it could get a better chance at winning the game.

Punter Will Brice got off a 64-yarder that should have been downed inside the 5, but he put two in the end zone. Daniel Pope had no touchbacks in three shots with a an above-average 47.3 average that included his long of 56 yards.

TAUNT TALK: Bengals middle linebacker Brian Simmons found out first hand the officials are going to enforce the beefed-up taunting rules. He was flagged 15 yards (it was marked off as eight because it was at the Cincinnati 16) for getting in the face of Bears tackle Chris Brown.

But Simmons had no idea what they were talking about when told the officials said he grabbed Brown by the face mask after the play.

"He grabbed my face mask and I really don't think I said anything to him," Simmons said.

By the way, Simmons said his knee was fine in his return since missing all but three quarters last season with torn knee cap cartilage. He played a little longer than most of the defensive starters, working all of the first half.

DEFENSIVE STANDS: The Bengals' defense got lost with the quarterbacks and overtime, but it was solid in doing things it didn't do last year. Bean picked off a pass for a team that was last in the AFC with nine interceptions last year, and the team that had the least sacks in the AFC last season with 26 had three.

The Bears' only touchdown came after two

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15-yard penalties the club probably thinks is borderline. Defensive tackle Glen Steele was called for going after quarterback Cade McNown's knees on an incomplete third-down pass, and Simmons got rung for taunting.

But Steele had a good game with two tipped passes at the line of scrimmage. End Vaughn Booker also had a tip.

Defensive end Jevon Langford is making a bold roster bid. After a sack and fumble recovery in the scrimmage, Langford had another sack along with five tackles against the Bears.

Defensive tackle Tony Williams flashed his all-out style with a diving, crawling sack. Cornerback Mark Roman, who continues to be active in the run game, had the other sack along with a team-leading seven tackles.

Free safety Chris Carter had six tackles, including a shot on running back Marlon Barnes that forced a fumble that popped out of bounds.

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