8-24-02, 9:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
While a Deuce went wild Saturday night, the Bengals continued to Go Fish for a starting quarterback in the first half at the Paul Brown Stadium pre-season opener.
The Saints strafed the Bengals' NFL-leading defense with three touchdowns to take a 21-9 half-time lead as Deuce McAllister scored on a 16-yard screen pass and a one-yard run on the way to racking up 84 yards on 13 carries.
The Saints also threw in wide receiver Michael Lewis' 81-yard punt return for a touchdown in the middle of the second quarter when Lewis bolted through an alley on the Saints sideline opened by running back Fred McAfee's detonation block of Bengals rookie safety Marquand Manuel.
Meanwhile, Jon Kitna gave Gus Frerotte an opening in the Bengals quarterbacks derby with his worst outing of the preseason. He threw his first interception, failed to get touchdowns when the Bengals twice drove inside the New Orleans 8, and finished five of 14 passing for 101 yards.
The Bengals did get an 18-yard field goal from Neil Rackers and a 36-yarder from rookie Travis Dorsch off the two red-zone drives to cut the Saints lead to 7-6 in the first two minutes of the second quarter.
Frerotte checked into the game minutes later and right away felt some pressure from rookie left tackle Levi Jones' side of the line. Frerotte did step up in the pocket to hit Chad Johnson for two passes of 29 yards, but Warrick dropped a third-down pass over the middle and Rackers rescued them with a 44-yard field goal that cut it to 14-9 with 4:17 left in the half.
Frerotte finished the half six of eight for 58 yards, and was expected to start the second half.
The Bengals did take their long ball out of mothballs in the first half. They went to their no-huddle offense
in order to help find their long game that had yet to surface in the preseason.
Lacking a pass of 20 yards or
longer to one of their wide receivers, Houshmandzadeh adjusted to a Kitna heave on the Bengals sideline for a 29-yard pickup. A few plays later, Warrick turned his back completely to the secondary to haul in a 28-yarder, but Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon couldn't punch it on two tries over the left side.
The Bengals' running game, ranked No. 1 in the NFL during the preseason, worked against a formidable Saints' defense that had allowed just one run of more than eight yards coming into Saturday.
Dillon did rip off 11 on his first carry of the season, a sweep to the left, and finished the night with 45 yards on eight carries.
The Bengals pounded it inside the 10 again on the next drive, the big play being Houshmandzadeh's leaping 16-yard catch as Saints defensive end Charles Grant roughed Kitna. Backup running back Brandon Bennett checked in with his obligatory big play, a 17-yard run off a wide pitch from Kitna. But when Warrick got separation on the corner as he headed to the flag, Kitna overthrew him in the end zone. Kitna showed the presence of mind to get rid of the ball on a blitz even though he was called for intentional grounding and Dorsch hit the 36-yard field goal to bring the Bengals within 7-6 early in the second quarter.
Brooks did a nice job running away from the Bengals' first-team defense that clearly showed it missed all their starting linebackers with injuries. Brooks finished the half eight of 17 for 97 yards, and he did get sacked once by tackle Bernard Whittington.