Lions don't beat Dem Bengals

8-16-03, 10:25 p.m. Updated:
8-17-03, 12:50 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Marvin Lewis called on something old and something new to salute his first victory as a NFL head coach Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium.

Lewis went to that something new at the beginning of the second half and unwrapped the NFL's top draft pick for the gathering of 39,965 as rookie quarterback Carson Palmer hit all seven of his passes for 97 yards, two touchdowns, and a perfect passer rating of 158.3 that was the centerpiece of the Bengals' 23-10 victory over the Lions.

Then Lewis unveiled that something old when he closeted his team in the locker room right after the game and led them in the "Who-Dey," cheer that was part of Cincinnati's soundtrack during the Bengals' rock-and-roll 1980s.

In the group, Lewis spied James Brown, a sideline fixture for years on Game Day, and asked him to get the guys through it. Lewis actually did pretty well, since he's been listening to it since NFL Films put together a historical highlight at his request that included wide receiver Tim McGee asking "Who Going to Beat Dem Bengals?" as they celebrated the 1988 AFC title in the Riverfront Stadium locker room.

"We've watched a lot of the old videos and obviously we've talked a lot about our past tradition of winning," Lewis said. "I think that's something significant in our city and so we're going to start a tradition. JB, that's the one face I've seen on those videos on the sidelines."

And Palmer is apparently going to stay on the sidelines because he said after the game he's not ready to start yet. Even if he does have a passer rating of 96.5 in the preseason with three touchdown passes, two interceptions, and completion percentage of 65.5.

"No question that Jon's (Kitna) the No. 1 quarterback (but) we're still working towards Sept. 7," Lewis said of the regular-season opener against the Broncos. "I can't forsee the future, but I would imagine Jon Kitna will be our starting quarterback Sept. 7, unless he gets injured."

Lewis got his team healthy in a hurry after it looked a little ill last Sunday in a 28-13 loss to the Jets. But he kept showing them the tape and his needle and he fittingly got a vintage Marvin Lewis performance for Win No. 1:

Workmanlike offense. The quarterbacks hit 75 percent of their passes, there was only one turnover, and they got points on four out of five trips into the red zone.

Which are all the things they didn't do six days ago.

"There's no question tonight we went in and I know we executed better," Lewis said. "I know we didn't have the same problems we had a week ago. . . as far as defensively, we made plays (but) we need to make the drive stopping plays to keep people from scoring. They don't have to score. I really believe that. Offensively, we made the first downs again today and that's good to see. We executed (but) we've still got to get crisper in our running game and we've got to keep looking at that and just keep working. Special teams today, I thought we picked up our tempo and we've still got a ways to go but we now have some fruit of their labor to show them."

A week after the Lions dominated the Steelers, the Bengals dominated the Lions, hogging the ball for 35:36 and completing 60 percent of their third-down tries and holding Detroit to 29 percent.

"Practice has been pretty intense the last four days," said linebacker Adrian Ross. "Yesterday was a lot of mental work at practice. To come out here and get a win makes it feel like the work is paying off."

The Bengals are now 1-1 heading into next Saturday's game at PBS at 7:30 p.m. against the Titans, and seem to be gathering some confidence.

"I think so. I hope so," said defensive tackle Oliver Gibson. "I hope we can go into that first game with a little bit of a swagger. We've been missing it since we went out to San Diego 2-0 a few years ago and lost."

Both Palmer and the Bengals played with a brisk confidence that rookies and 2-14 teams aren't supposed to display. Palmer, who missed all but one practice this week, capped his histrionics with a perfect over-the-shoulder bomb to Houshmandzadeh for a 30-yard touchdown pass to end a microwave three-play 70-yard drive that made it 23-3.

"it is only a preseason game and Detroit was facing a lot of adversity at home with the power outage and things like that," Lewis said. "It is a preseason game — we have a plan and we stuck to the plan and we got out our guys out there playing and we executed things better than we did last week. We know this team played considerably well last week against Pittsburgh. They come to play but we handled some things there without some guys (from the Lions being present). Again, we just have to worry about ourselves and yes, you want to win because it gives you some confidence. But yes, what we're doing is working. Let's keep it up, let's work harder."

The Bengals solved their red-zone crisis with last year's NFL Draft. After settling for three first-half field goals by Rackers, Palmer got their first touchdown of the night on his first PBS drive in which he hit his first five passes for 45 yards.

The last one came on his fourth-and-two flip to rookie fullback Jeremi Johnson with 7:14 left in the third quarter as Palmer showed no signs of the sore right foot he hurt in last Sunday's pre-season opener.

Palmer started the second half and promptly drove the Bengals 77 yards, highlighted by his 29-yard loft job to wide receiver Danny Farmer beating a linebacker down the sideline.

The good news for Kitna and his first-team offense is they staked Cincinnati to a 9-3 half-time lead and Kitna hit 10 of 15 passes for 90 yards. The bad news is they are still searching for a consistent running game and couldn't punch in a touchdown during three trips into the red zone before getting field goals of 44, 31, and 21 yards from Rackers.

The Lions got 59 of their 107 first-half yards in what amounted to the last five minutes of the second quarter in a 14-play drive orchestrated by backup quarterback Mike McMahon. After McMahon fled what looked to be two sure sacks by defensive end Justin Smith, Jason Hanson kicked a 40-yard field goal with eight seconds left.

But Detroit never got in the red zone during the first half a week after the Lions threw around the Steeler defense for 298 yards. They let the offense stay on the field for nearly 17 minutes in getting five tackles each from middle linebacker Kevin Hardy and right outside linebacker Brian Simmons.

And they threw in another fourth-and-1 stop on their own 35 when Hardy and tackle Tony Williams blew up running back James Stewart on the right side.

Bengals defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier mixed and matched five safeties with the first group as the secondary held Harrington to 13 yards passing in the first quarter. He threw a 53-yard beauty down the middle of the field to rookie receiver Charles Rogers, but Rogers dropped it with the help of some tight coverage by Hardy underneath and free safety Kevin Kaesviharn over the top.

"When a team lines up on you and goes for it on fourth down, even in preseason, I consider that a slap in the face to the defense," Hardy said. "If you're a competitor, that has to get the blood flowing. You've got to bow up and get it done."

The running game still tried to find its rhythm behind the first line and it conjured up memories of last season, when the Bengals finished next-to-last in the AFC in touchdown percentage in the red zone. One of the reasons they got there was Kitna made a great move on a 14-yard scramble, freezing linebacker Barrett Green. They also got their longest run of the preseason, a 21-yard slash from running back Brandon Bennett that he almost broke for a touchdown if it hadn't been for a desperation arm tackle.

But rookie running back Ray Jackson paused in the hole on one third-down play, and he couldn't convert on a third-and-four draw play down on the goal line. Yet Jackson had another good night in his bid to make the roster in a game Corey Dillon carried two times for four yards.

Kitna almost hooked up with a rookie making his NFL debut, wide receiver Kelley Washington, for a touchdown, but as Washington leaped for it in the end zone, cornerback Andre Goodman knocked the ball away at the last instant.

"I think we did what we set out to do, which was to show improvement from last week," Kitna said. "We still had some bad mistakes, things you shouldn't be seeing from veteran guys who have been in this offense for three years. We've got to get better in the red zone."

The defense picked up where it left off in the preseason opener with the one major change that had been reported during the week as Ross started in place of Steve Foley at left outside linebacker. After holding the Jets to 155 yards last Sunday, the Lions had just one touchdown drive. Artrell Hawkins started in place of left cornerback Jeff Burris (foot), and was named the defensive captain for the game, along with tight end Reggie Kelly for the offense and long snapper Brad St. Louis for special teams.

With Peter Warrick attending his grandfather's funeral in Florida, Houshmandzadeh didn't disappoint in his first action of the preseason. He took John Jett's low punt and scorched rookie linebacker Boss Bailey on an inside juke that led to his 39-yard return. Besides the touchdown, he had four catches for 51 yards. With Warrick and Ron Dugans (Achilles) out, Houshmandzadeh and Farmer (he got the start in place of Warrick and had two catches for 44 yards) got plenty of work.

Victor Leyva also saw time with the first unit at right guard in place of Matt O'Dwyer. He also played on Palmer's line that included center Thatcher Szalay, right tackle Scott Kooistra, left guard Rich Braham, and left tackle Scott Rehberg.

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