11-17-03, 5:15 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins knew it was going to be a special day Sunday as early as when he got in his car to drive to Paul Brown Stadium.
"There were more people on the streets and there were more people in the stands during pregame," Hawkins said. "You could tell there was something in the air. That no matter what happened something special was going to happen."
That something special came in the form of defense and special teams combining with a raucous home sellout crowd to do in the best team in football with a 24-19 victory over the Chiefs.
The Bengals' special teams outplayed the league's No. 1 special teams player, and the defense stuffed an offense that came into the game leading the NFL in points and touchdowns.
There was Chad, Rudi, and Jeremi Johnson on offense, but it was linebacker Riall Johnson on special teams that typified the day when his block of linebacker Gary Stills opened the alley for Peter Warrick's game-turning 68-yard punt return for a touchdown.
"Usually my guy stays around the line and doesn't get that far down field," Johnson said. "But he did a good job releasing from me and I had to run down and get in front of him. Sometimes it works for the best."
And the crowd?
"The best teams in the NFL have that hostile home field and that's what our fans did for us today," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "The way they were chanting for our defense. They made it a hostile environment, and we fed off them."
The crowd can never escape head coach Marvin Lewis in his crusade to revive The Jungle of Sam Wyche, Boomer Esiason and Ickey Woods.
"The fans today — what great crowd noise," Lewis said. "I think that everyone sees the difference it makes when you have that behind you. A tremendous day today from the time the guys took the field. I think they could feel the energy, the excitement. It was just awesome."
Also awesome was how the Bengals bottled up the Chiefs' two biggest playmakers, kick/punt returner Dante Hall and running back Priest Holmes. In the second half, Hall's longest return of any kind was harmless 17 yards on a kickoff, while punter
Kyle Richardson dropped one on the Chiefs 8 early in the fourth quarter and rookie cornerback Terrell Roberts dropped him for a loss of four yards on a punt in the third quarter. Hall got so frustrated after bobbling Shayne Graham's kickoff early in the fourth quarter that put Kansas City on its 15, he got a delay of game penalty for kicking the ball.
"The key was just running and getting off blocks," said linebacker Adrian Ross. "They do a good job holding you up and you have to not look at them and make sure you get downfield.
After Hall ripped off punt returns of 26 and 28 in the game's first seven minutes, he didn't get one longer than 13 the rest of the day, eight yards below his average. Richardson rebounded from his first two poor punts to get good hang time.
"It was a tale of two halves," said special teams coach Darrin Simmons, who saw a holding call on running back Brandon Bennett and a procedure call on rookie linebacker Khalid Abdullah cost the Bengals nearly 50 yards of field position on Hall's last two punt returns of the first half.
"We were making plays. We were just making stupid penalties," Simmons said. "You can't change much what you do, but I told them to keep doing what we were doing, but just be smart. We made the plays if it wasn't for the penalties. There are no secrets trying to cover a guy like that. You have to be sound."
Graham also got sounder as the game went. He kicked it out-of-bounds to Hall on his first try, but that was the last time he did that as Graham did a good job pinning Hall into one corner or the other and not giving him the middle of the field.
"We overloaded one side of the field and kicked it to that side," Riall Johnson said. "I think we were just too keyed up early in the game and it took us awhile to settle down."
While they tried to find their sea legs, the defense came up huge despite awful field position in the first half, keeping the Chiefs out of the end zone for the game's first 53 minutes and not letting them convert a third down until 29 seconds left in the half in holding Holmes under 100 yards rushing and receiving for the first time this season on 62 rushing and 36 receiving.
"The big stat we had on them was Holmes counting for 60 percent of their offense," said middle linebacker Kevin Hardy. "So you have to key on a guy like that. We did a good job knowing where he was by formation. The screen has been a big play for them this year, but I think they only ran one today and that shows you that we took something away fom them."
Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil felt his club's inability to cash early hurt it late.
"I think we got out-coached and out-played. We were so bad in the first half offensively. I don't want to say that without respect for what their defensive coaches did, because they did a great job."
Chiefs quarterback Trent Green threw for 313 yards, but he was harassed much of the day even though the Chiefs gave him maximum protection by sending out two receivers most of the time. Which means the defensive line played well and guys like Hawkins played well playing in place of the injured Jeff Burris. Green's longest pass in a down-field offense was 23 yards.
"Their whole thing is going vertical, beating you down field," Hawkins said. "They like to beat you with double moves, so I know some people were wondering what we were doing playing off those out routes, but after they do some of those, they're trying to get behind you.
""A big reason for their success this year is due to them keeping an extra man in the block, which allows Trent Green to sit in the pocket and wait for one of his receivers to shake loose," Hawkins said. "We knew going in that our defensive linemen were going to have to beat their men one-on-one and force him to throw the ball early. They did a good job of that today."
The line was also superb against the run and made a key play early in the second half and held the Chiefs' opening drive to a field goal, giving them their only lead of the day that they held for just five minutes. End Duane Clemons and tackle Glen Steele stuffed Holmes on a third-and-one from the Bengals 21 for no gain.
With the 27-yard field goal that gave the Bengals a 3-0 lead, Graham tied Jim Breech's club-record for starting a season hitting 14 of his first 15. He missed his next try when he hooked a 48-yarder, but it looked to be because he was rushed when the Bengals had problems getting enough men on the field.