Jags cash Bengals' mistakes

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The ups and downs of an NFL rookie looked to be more down than up here at Paul Brown Stadium late in third quarter.

Minutes after tying the game with an electrifying 82-yard punt return, Bengals rookie Peter Warrick fumbled a punt at his own 11 and Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor scored on a five-yard touchdown run three plays later to give the Jaguars a 14-7 lead with 4:57 left in the third quarter.

Earlier, Warrick warmed up the second-coldest game in Cincinnati history when he skated 82 yards for a touchdown off a punt that tied the game at 7 early in the third quarter.

Warrick juked right, juked left, and juked right again in running about 182 yards on the Bengals' first touchdown off a kick or punt this season.

It was an improbable play on an improbable day. The snow-covered field was encased in nine-degree temperature that was 20-below with the wind chill, second only to the infamous "Freezer Bowl," on Jan. 10, 1982 when the Bengals won the AFC title in minus-9 degrees with a minus-59 degree wind chill.

It was the kind of day everyone knew one mistake could ice it and the Bengals made four in the game's first 41 minutes with four turnovers .

Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon made two with two fumbles and Jacksonville took the opening and a 7-0 lead at half-time that looked as big as 77-0 given the conditions.

Dillon lost his second fumble of the game at his own 33 with 1:54 left in the half and the Jaguars took five plays to score.

On third-and-goal, Jags wide receiver Jimmy Smith cut in front of rookie cornerback Mark Roman on a corner route for a three-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mark Brunell with 27 seconds left in the half.

The Bengals' best shot at scoring came when the usually sure-fingered Dillon ripped off a 12-yard gain to the Jacksonville 34. But Jags defensive end Tony Brackens forced a fumble with a strip of Dillon from behind. Dillon had only lost one fumble coming into the game.

Dillon started better than the Jags' fellow 1,000-yard rusher, Fred Taylor, on the slippery surface. Dillon had 52 yards on his first seven carries, 25 of them coming when he reversed field on the first play of the game, and he finished the half with 60 yards on 12 carries.

Taylor, bidding for his ninth straight 100-yard day finished the first quarter with 22 yards on six carries. But he warmed up to finish the half with 61 on 15 carries.

It was tough sledding. The Jags' high-powered offense misfired on their first four third-down tries as Brunell was only 50 percent on his first 10 passes for 52 yards.

Bengals quarterback Scott Mitchell threw his longest pass of the season to a wide receiver this season, a 25-yard shot to Warrick crossing over the middle, but neither team could get anything going consistently.

Mitchell appeared not to be able to firmly plant his tender left knee and came up short on a few passes. He finished the half just 4 of 10 passing for 67 yards, and underthrew Warrick late in the third quarter to get intercepted by Jags safety Mike Logan.

Bengals right tackle Willie Anderson, who didn't practice all week, started despite the left ankle he sprained last week in Tennessee.

Earlier in the week, Taylor ripped the Paul Brown Stadium grass, calling it "a dirt bike track." But he got a skating rink instead, thanks to a massive dip in temperatures and Sunday morning snow showers.

The only lines visible on the white field were painted orange on the goal lines, end lines and sidelines.

Bill Connelly, Bengals business manager, said the club didn't cover the field with a tarpaulin Friday because the paint on the field had yet to dry.

During Saturday's all-day rain, the Bengals and referee Jeff Triplette agreed a tarp wouldn't help and kept it uncovered. Plus, there was fear more damage would be caused when the weather froze and the tarp had to be dug out of the field

The drop in temperature came overnight. Connelly said the field's heating system didn't adjust to such a huge drop and didn't generate enough power to melt the snow.

Last week had to seem like last year for Jacksonville. They rolled over Arizona, 44-10, last Sunday in 61-degree weather at home.

The closest thing to "Freezer Bowl," conditions came when the Bengals beat the Bears, 16-10, five years and a week ago on Dec. 10, 1995. Quarterback Jeff Blake threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Darnay Scott and Doug Pelfeey kicked three field goals.

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