BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals coach Dick LeBeau, the oldest rookie NFL coach ever, knows a thing or two about history.
So in the moments after his first head coaching victory here at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday, he gathered his team for an old-time cheer of hip-hip-hooray, "because this was a game out of the '40s."
Actually, it was a game for the ages
as running back Corey Dillon broke Walter Payton's all-time NFL rushing record in a stunning 31-21 victory against Denver's heralded rush defense.
No, make that a game out of the '50s as the Bengals won their first game of the season a week after scraping bottom in absorbing their third shutout of the year. With 407 rushing yards, the Bengals had the best running day in the league since the New York Giants rolled over the Detroit Lions in a 1950 game and the fifth best of all time.
Cincinnati tamed one of the NFL's elite by completing just two passes, none in the last three quarters.
Dillon hit the record books when he hit the end zone at the end of a 41-yard run with about two minutes left in the game, giving him 278 yards on 22 carries, three more yards than Payton had in a 1977 game.
"It was a day of immortality," said Bengals right tackle Willie Anderson.
Dillon, who ripped off 235 yards on his first 19 carries, gave Cincinnati a 24-14 lead with 4:58 left in the game on a 65-yard touchdown run
But it took the Broncos less than two minutes to get back to a field goal when quarterback Brian Griese hit Rod Smith with a 28-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 24-21.
Yet with Bengals quarterback Akili Smith knocked from the game early because of dizziness and the Bengals passing game numb, offensive coordinator Ken Anderson worked some magic on the Bengals last series.
On a third-and-eight with 3:20 left, backup quarterback Scott Mitchell ran a naked bootleg for nine yards for a first down. Two plays later, rookie receiver Peter Warrick ran a sweep for 15 more that set up Dillon's final burst down the left sideline as he cut back against the grain one last time.
"I'm sure it's embarrassing," said Denver strong safety Billy Jenkins. "It's probably the most embarrassed Coach (Mike) Shanahan has ever been."
But it just wasn't Dillon . Backup running back Brandon Bennett broke the tackles of two Denver safeties on a 19-yard touchdown run to give the Bengals a 17-14 lead with about eight minutes left in the quarter on the Bengals' first touchdown in the second half this season.
Bennett was in the game because starting running back Corey Dillon had just ripped off a 25-yard run and needed a blow because he was on the way to rushing for 170 yards on 16 carries in the first three quarters against a defense ranked second in the NFL.
With a retooled line, the Bengals' defense turned in another solid effort against the NFL's No. 4 offense. Strong safety Chris Carter got the start in place of Cory Hall and not only forced a fumble, but picked off quarterback Brian Griese when Denver was in the red zone early in the third quarter.
The Bengals also got a lift when Jason Elam missed two 48-yard field goal tries, the last one with 13:03 left in the game.
It's a good thing the Bengals could run because their passing game was punchless. Even before Smith left early in the third quarter when he hurt his neck after getting sacked.
They had just 23 yards passing after three quarters as backup quarterback Scott Mitchell missed his first five passes.
Earlier, Bengals rookie receiver Peter Warrick woke up the echoes and the offense on the ground instead of through the air when his 77-yard touchdown run off a reverse cut Denver's lead to 14-10 at halftime.
Warrick ended up giving the ball to Smith after he reached the end zone because Smith had as much to do with the offense's first touchdown in seven quarters, secured with 5:29 left in the second quarter.
On the first play after running back Mike Anderson gave Denver a 14-3 lead on a four-yard touchdown run, Warrick ran a sweep right behind a load of blockers.
With nowhere to go, Warrick cut it back left and with Denver overpursuing, it was just him and Smith against Denver cornerback Terrell Buckley. Smith hand checked Buckley all the way down the left sideline for the longest run by a Bengal receiver since Warren McVea went 80 yards in 1968.
The Bengals' offense broke its 120-minute scoring drought early in the second quarter, but they wished it was more when kicker Neil Rackers hit 24-yard field goal in the first three minutes of the second quarter. Rackers' kick cut Denver's lead to 7-3 and ended the Bengals' 12-play drive at the Denver six-yard line.
But moments earlier, a personal foul penalty on Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski had given the Bengals a first down on the Denver 3. Two runs to running back Corey Dillon pushed Cincinnati backward and on third down Smith collided with Dillon in the backfield to short-circuit Smith's rollout pass attempt.
Yet the Cincinnati pass offense showed signs of busting out of its dreadful slump. Smith and tight end Tony McGee converted a third-and-12 on a 25-yard play that put Cincinnati in the red zone for just the 10th time this season.
Then Warrick converted another long third down, when he made a diving catch on an inside slant.
Dillon was also prolific, busting out of Denver's eight-man front for some long gains against a defense giving up just 65 yards pre game. Dillon finished the half with 77 yards on nine carries and his 31-yarder on the drive's first play set the tone.
Ironically, the game looked to turn to Denver on one of Dillon's bursts. Dillon ripped off 21 yards, but as he fell on the Denver 35 he fumbled when Romanowski punched the ball out.
The Broncos recovered and went on a nine-play drive that culminated in Anderson's touchdown and was highlighted by Griese's 35-yard pass to wide open tight end Dwayne Carswell against a first-and-20 blitz.
The Cincinnati defense recovered after another tough start. For the third straight game, the Bengals allowed points on the game's first possession. On Sunday, it was the Broncos' effortless 12-play, 80-yard drive consuming the game's first 6:47 that put the Bengals into a 7-0 hole.
Griese got the score when he found backup fullback Detron Smith for a one-yard touchdown pass. It was Smith's first run or catch of the season in place of the injured Howard Griffith.
It was also Griese's 15th touchdown pass of the season, one more than he had in all of '99.
Seeking to slow down the NFL's sixth-best running game, the Bengals changed up their defensive line, but the unit offered no resistance on Denver's first drive and allowed the Broncos to rush for 107 yards in the first half..
Griese hurt the Bengals on two eight-yard scrambles and Anderson ripped off 44 yards on six carries in the drive behind an offensive line that cleared out Cincinnati's front seven.
After 92 starts at end, John Copeland moves inside to tackle. Michael Bankston moves from left end to right and Vaughn Booker makes his first appearance since his fainting episode Sept. 17 in Jacksonville. Oliver Gibson, off a solid game against Steelers Pro Bowl center Dermontti Dawson, remains at tackle.
But the Bengals went into the game against the Broncos' relentless offensive line one defensive lineman short. Defensive line coach Tim Krumrie felt he had to deactivate tackle Tom Barndt to rest the injured shoulder that has nagged him since early in training camp.
The Bengals also deactivated fullback Nick Williams and cornerback Mark Roman. The Bengals had been alternating Roman and fellow rookie cornerback Robert Bean each game on the active list, but Bean is playing in the dime package and Roman is sitting for the second straight week.
The Bengals also like Bean's work on special teams. When the Bengals had to punt twice on their first series because of penalty, Bean downed the first kick on the Denver 4-yard line and the second on the Broncos' 8. Then early in the fourth quarter, Bean dragged down Denver punt returner at the Denver 17 on Daniel Pope's 58-yard punt.