8-25-01, 8:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Steve Christie's 43-yard field goal gave Buffalo a 5-3 lead over the Bengals early in the second quarter in Saturday's Paul Brown Stadium pre-season opener.
But it was no fault of the Bengals' defense.
Defensive end Vaughn Booker and strong safety Cory Hall logged sacks of quarterback Rob Johnson and middle linebacker Brian Simmons knocked down a third-down pass as the Bengals held the Bills to 43 yards in the first quarter.
But the Bills got the field goal courtesy of Bengals quarterback Scott Mitchell's interception on an out pattern to receiver Danny Farmer. Buffalo cornerback Antoine Winfield stepped in front of Mitchell's pass and returned it 33 yards down the left sideline.
The Bills got their first points on a season-long problem for the Bengals. Cincinnati's offensive line couldn't block an inside stunt and Bills defensive end Erik Flowers sliced in from the left side to sack Mitchell in the end zone for a safety.
But Mitchell was effective early.
His offense hogged the ball for the first
five minutes of the game Saturday night and went 67 yards on its maiden voyage on Paul Brown Stadium's new grass field for a short Neil Rackers' field goal that gave them a 3-0 leader over Buffalo.
Quarterback Scott Mitchell directed the crisp 12-play drive by hitting three of six passes for 39 yards and Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon rushed for 28 yards on his first five carries that included a vintage 21-yard burst off right tackle behind Willie Anderson.
Mitchell should have had the first team's first touchdown of the season, but wide receiver Darnay Scott dropped a ball in the end zone.
Dillon looked in October form when he converted a nifty 3rd-and-3 on a draw play by bouncing it from up the middle all the way to the left sideline for a four-yard gain.
Mitchell also converted a nice third-and-11 to Danny Farmer out of a four-receiver set and Rackers capped off the drive with a 23-yard kick.
Quarterback Akili Smith tried before the game, but he couldn't get any velocity on his passes and didn't dress.
"It didn't feel very good this morning and it just didn't get any better," Smith said about 90 minutes before the club's third pre-season game.
Smith's case of tendinitis in his throwing shoulder officially turned Saturday's game into a showcase for the Bengals quarterbacks derby involving Mitchell and Jon Kitna.
Mitchell becomes the third quarterback to start for the Bengals this preseason Saturday and he tries to become the first to lead them to a touchdown. Kitna coaxed out a field goal against the Bears Aug. 4 and Smith couldn't get any points in his four series Aug. 10 in Detroit.
In a lineup move, Tremain Mack got the start at free safety when Chris Carter couldn't go because of a sore hamstring. But Mack hurt his shoulder on the kickoff before the first defensive series and was replaced by JoJuan Armour because his return was questionable.
The secondary, already decimated by injuries to cornerbacks Artrell Hawkins and Mark Roman, took another shot when Hall got thrown out of the game with Bills linebacker Fred Jones after an altercation midway through the second quarter.
Armour responded with the Bengals' third sack of the game with only 8:26 left in the first half.
The pre-game buzz centered around the new Kentucky bluegrass field that was installed at PBS back in May.
"It's like comparing a Rolls Royce to a Pinto with no wheels," said punter Daniel Pope, who still has fresh memories of last year's temporary Bermuda field that got chewed alive.
Left tackle John Jackson called the grass, "nice, it's like day and night."
"It's a Big 10 field," said wide receiver Danny Farmer. "It's a little high, but it's nice. Big difference."
If there was any complaint, it was the grass was a tad too long. The field had been mowed Thursday, but rain combined with the deep roots to make it slightly longer than usual.
The Bengals showed up Saturday after training camp to find that equipment manager Rob Recker had done some locker re-arranging.
Last year, head coach Bruce Coslet alternated the lockers by offense and defense. This year, Dick LeBeau told Recker to take care of it.
"Most of the players wanted to locker by position," Recker said. "So we had to scramble a bit. I didn't move anybody off a corner locker because that's prime real estate. And it's not set yet because the roster isn't set."