11-25-01, 4:10 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
CLEVELAND _ The Bengals made their first quarterback change of the season Sunday at halftime. Then they made their second when Akili Smith came into the game for the last 1:13.
But that still didn't change the startling lack of offense that has bogged them down since their return from the bye week in a 18-0 loss to the Browns here at Cleveland Brown Stadium.
Backup Scott Mitchell couldn't drive the Bengals five yards in four plays at the start of the fourth quarter and he threw three interceptions to go along with starter Jon Kitna's two interceptions as the Bengals stretched their scoreless skein to seven quarters.
The Bengals, 4-6 after dropping their third straight since going into the bye week 4-3, have scored just two touchdowns and 20 points in the losing streak.
The Bengals defense kept Cincinnati from getting blown into Lake Erie. They held the Browns to 17 yards on 17 rushes in the first half and the Browns had only about 230 yards of offense with three minutes left in the game.
Phil Dawson's 23-yard and 33-yard field goals in the game's last 2:55 came off short drives when Mitchell was picked off on back-to-back throws by cornerback Daylon McCutcheon for the Bengals' sixth and seventh turnovers of the game.
With Kitna missing eight of his first nine passes, the Bengals couldn't cash running back Corey Dillon's 54 yards on his first 10 carries as Dillon tried to hit his average of 144 per his games against Cleveland. He finished the half with 54 yards on 14 carries, but ended up with 63 on 20 carries at the two-minute warning.
The Browns stopped the Bengals' best chance to score after T.J. Houshmandzadeh's 86-yard bolt put the ball on the Cleveland 5 with the third longest punt return in Cincinnati history.
Mitchell threw an incomplete pass on first down, Dillon got three yards on two carries up the middle and then Mitchell rolled left, couldn't find a receiver, and got sacked for a nine-yard loss.
After Kitna threw two interceptions and completed just six of 19 passes for 62 yards in the first half, Mitchell threw an interception on the second half's second series when Browns cornerback Corey Fuller stepped in front of wide receiver Ron Dugans and Mitchell's underthrown pass at the Bengals 20.
The Bengals defense kept Cincinnati from getting blown into Lake Erie. They held the Browns to 17 yards on 17 rushes in the first half.
The Bengals' third turnover of the first half was the biggest and came with the Bengals at the Cleveland 43 with 1:02 left. Dugans let a pass over the middle bounce off his hands and into the arms of Browns cornerback Raymond Jackson and he took it back to the Bengals 10.
With 26 seconds left in the half, after Bengals defensive end Reinard Wilson was called for roughing the quarterback, Browns quarterback Tim Couch lofted a six-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kevin Johnson. Bengals rookie cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn couldn't find the ball as Johnson hit the 100-yard mark against the Bengals for the fourth time in his career.
Kaesviharn was in because No. 1 cornerback Artrell Hawkins left in the first series after spraining his ankle. Wide receiver Peter Warrick left in the second quarter to get his right shoulder X-Rayed and both were ruled out for the game after halftime
Bengals kicker Neil Rackers badly missed a 43-yard field goal on a low liner to the left and his 47-yard attempt hit the left upright.
And when the Bengals did get a big play, it got blown up. Kitna hit Warrick over the middle for 22 yards for a first down on third and 19, but
he fumbled the ball away at midfield when Browns cornerback Daylon McCutcheon tipped the ball out of Warrick's arms before he could secure it. Warrick then left with the shoulder injury.
Kitna got intercepted on the game's third play when linebacker Brant Boyer dropped into coverage against Warrick over the middle.
Still, when the dust cleared with 10:17 left in the second quarter, the Bengals somehow trailed by just 6-0 on field goals of 23 and 27 yards from Browns kicker Phil Dawson.
That was mainly because middle linebacker Brian Simmons stripped Browns running back Ben Gay for a fumble that was recovered by tackle Tony Williams at the Cincinnati 18.
Couch exploited the absence of Hawkins when he went long down the left sideline one-on-one with cornerback Mark Roman for a 47-yard play to wide receiver Kevin Johnson. Couch and Johnson later picked on Kaesviharn to convert a third-and-6, but Simmons made a big play against an offense scoring touchdowns on 65 percent of their forays past the opponents 20.
On the next series, Couch wasted no time finding Johnson on Roman again. This time it was Johnson's juggling 33-yard catch over Roman that put the ball on the Cincinnati 9. But the defense held when tackle Oliver Gibson knocked down Couch's pass and forced Dawson's 27-yarder that made it 6-0 with 13:18 left in the first half.
Wide receiver Darnay Scott, who didn't practice all week with bruised ribs, got the go-ahead to play Sunday after a pre-game workout here with backup quarterback Scott Mitchell.
The Bengals liked what they saw when Scott stretched for balls and how he ran his routes. But they decided to make all six receivers active for the game with Chad Johnson returning after sitting out the last four games with a broken collarbone and Warrick already nursing a thigh bruise.
In order to make room for six receivers, the Bengals got burned in light of the Hawkins' injury and went light at cornerback by inactivating rookie cornerback Bo Jennings
Scott responded to anti-inflammatory medicine, plus receivers coach Steve Mooshagian said, "The bottom line is he wants to play. That's the most important thing. He's able to reach out and catch and he's running well, so we're going to have everybody up."
Also inactive for the Bengals were injured left guard Matt O'Dwyer, guard Victor Leyva, defensive linemen Jevon Langford and Mario Monds, quarterback Akili Smith, running back Rudi Johnson and linebacker Riall Johnson.
Rookie receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh figures to be in a rotation with Warrick returning punts. He took over the job after Warrick got hurt last week against the Titans.
Scott and Johnson probably won't play full-time as the Bengals plan to substitute according to which personnel groups fit each of the receivers. Warrick practiced this week with the bruise.
"They're all going to play a lot," Mooshagian said.