Browns hold lead at half

11-17-02, 3 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals brought a sold-out crowd to its feet on the game's third play Sunday when their longest touchdown pass in three years from quarterback Jon Kitna to wide receiver Chad Johnson 47 seconds into the game triggered a first-half shootout at Paul Brown Stadium that ended with the Browns in a 17-14 lead.

The Bengals' defense didn't offer much resistance in giving up four long drives, the final one lasting just 2:37 and went 58 yards before producing Phil Dawson's 27-yard field goal with 35 seconds left.

Quarterback Tim Couch, sitting comfortably in the pocket without getting sacked, hit 14 of 23 passes in the first half for 163 yards. Seven of his completions came on third down and he got a huge boost from a once-dormant running game.

The Browns' last-ranked running game in the NFL found life from rookie running back William Green. Green, playing in place of Browns' leading rusher Jamel White, bolted to 72 yards on 13 carries and closed in on the Browns' first 100-yard running day of the season and just the third in Couch's four seasons in Cleveland. The assault included the longest run of Green's career, a 16-yarder.

Kitna found wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh for a 31-yard throw over the middle on third-and-nine to set up his own three-yard touchdown scramble up the middle after a high shot-gun snap to make it 14-14 in the first two minutes of the second quarter.

The Bengals dodged the injury bullet until the game started. Kicker Neil Rackers (ankle), defensive end Vaughn Booker (knee), defensive back Mark

Roman (knee), and kick returner Brandon Bennett (toe) all passed pre-game muster in order to play Sunday.

Couch gave the Browns a 14-7 lead on a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Darnell Sanders with 2:01 left in the first quarter. Sanders got free working one-on-one against rookie free-agent cornerback Reggie Myles , in the game because Jeff Burriss looked to be lost for the afternoon with a head injury.

On a third-and-six, Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson beat a Browns' defense apparently looking for a short pass and he ran past strong safety Robert Griffith. Kitna threw a beautiful pass over Johnson's left shoulder and the Bengals had their longest scoring connection since Jeff Blake hit Darnay Scott with a 76-yarder against Pittsburgh on Nov. 28, 1999.

The Browns came in trying to stuff Bengals running back Corey Dillon and they did with 30 yards on eight carries in the half. So the Bengals took their shots down field. Kitna completed just five of 13 passes in the half, but they went for 135 yards and Johnson had 87 of them on two catches.

The Bengals thought they had a big pass interference call on Browns cornerback Anthony Henry at the Cleveland 20 in the middle of the second quarter. Johnson ran five yards past Henry, but Kitna underthrew it and the Bengals argued Henry grabbed Johnson's shoulder as he slowed down to adjust to the ball.

Bengals cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn came up with an interception when he got inside wide receiver Quincy Morgan and he caught Couch's sideline bomb.

The Browns also got stopped on a 10-play, 62-yard drive when Dawson, after making 15 of his 17 previous field-goal tries, hit the right upright.

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