Long ball belts Ravens

10-20-03, 4:35 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Your father's Bengals?

Heck, these aren't even your Bengals.

Not after quarterback Jon Kitna set up next week's grudge match against the Seattle team that jettisoned him to free agency three years ago with his most productive and efficient outing in 36 games as a Bengal in Sunday's 34-26 victory over the Ravens.

Yes, he threw for 411 yards against the Steelers in 2001, but it took him 68 passes. Yes, he threw for four touchdowns against Houston in 2002, but none went longer than 33 yards.

On Sunday, Kitna hauled the Bengals' long ball out of mothballs for touchdown passes of 82, 45, and 21 yards to three different receivers in a distance display that Paul Brown Stadium has never seen and hasn't been seen in these parts since Jeff Blake embarked on his Ponce de Leon journey through the NFL:

The 34 points is the most generated at home since Blake closed Cinergy Field with 44 points against the rookie Browns in 1999, and Sunday is their first 14-point first quarter since that same season in Pittsburgh.

"Our receivers are playing with confidence and our quarterbacks are playing with confidence," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "Getting Matt Schobel back today, I thought, was a big lift."

On a day Lewis raised eyebrows by elevating rookie Carson Palmer from No. 3 to No. 2, Kitna took an even tighter grip on the job in front of his admiring coach.

"We set out after the Oakland game and the Pittsburgh game to not try and score two touchdowns on one play," Lewis said. "Just play within yourself. Jon understands this game of football, and that is the one thing about him. He is a very smart quarterback, and he understands time on the clock, where he can put the ball and where he can't. And when he knows he's wrong, he admits it and moves forward. Right now he is the leader of that group and he sticks up for them, and leads them, and we have to keep supporting him."

In the first two seasons of PBS in 2000 and 2001, the Bengals' longest pass plays in each of those seasons added up to 95 yards. On just one throw Sunday, Johnson got 82 for a touchdown that stunned the Ravens when he caught it off the hands of free safety Ed Reed at the Baltimore 35-yard line and kept running for a 21-7 lead just 20 seconds into the second quarter.

"We needed to run the ball better, but we had Jon back there throwing missiles all day," said center Rich Braham. "They don't want us to run the ball and they're trying to make us one dimensional, but Jon and our receivers are just doing a great job."

The Bengals aren't supposed to win when running back Corey Dillon gets 39 yards on 18 carries. In fact, they never have. In fact, before Sunday, the fewest yards Dillon ever got in a Bengals' victory in which he played the entire game was 57 on 18 carries two years ago against these Ravens. Anything lower, and they've lost since 1997.

"In years past, we haven't had a big-play passing game like we have right now," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "Our protection is holding up pretty well. It's a different team than three years ago when Corey was putting up some big numbers."

Everyone knows Dillon is going to have to put up those numbers again if the Bengals are to keep winning, but Kitna also knows the big plays will eventually give him more room. Sunday wasn't a good day to rip the Bengals for being predictable on offense. One of the scores came on third and long, and the other two came on first down. On the other touchdown drive, Dillon carried the final three plays.

"That's how you have to play in the NFL nowadays," Kitna said. "With the way defenses are playing now, they give you a little bit, give you a little bit, then hope you screw up. You have to get the big play."

Johnson, of course, has turned into the big play guy. On Sunday, he had 130 yards for his second 100-yard day of the season, but it was his catch of the 82-yard pass that glanced off Reed's hands that had everyone buzzing and wondering if that buzzard's luck that has flapped around the Bengals is starting to leave.

"It seems like, the last couple of years, any ball that bounced in the air was caught by the other team. Today that was not the case," Kitna said. "Sometimes things are out of your control, and that was certainly one of those plays. It was an unbelievable play."

Johnson bristled at first suggestions that it might have been a lucky play, but he acknowledged it was nice to get a bounce.

"It's me. The ball is going to bounce my way We don't need breaks, we just need to play football," Johnson said. "Reed's not even supposed to be over there. I don't know where he came from. He's on the other side of the field. I was bracketed, I beat the two men I had to beat and that was it. He just made a good play, even though as far as football instincts, he just happened to be there.

"His angle was kind of wrong from where the ball was traveling," Johnson said. "He's not going to catch that, but he s probably going to get a hand on it. I just wanted to play the bounce."

This tape should have defensive coordinators scratching their heads. The Ravens stopped Dillon, double-teamed Johnson and fellow wide receiver Peter Warrick much of the day, and still gave up 34 points.

"In the last two weeks, Marvin has talked about how we did not try to attack Buffalo (down field) in that game," Kitna said. "We have had some pretty good games when we have attacked teams downfield (in Oakland and Cleveland). His emphasis the last two weeks was to get the running game going and take shots down the field. The longer a ball is in the air, the harder it is for defensive back to play it."

Kitna and Schobel both jumped at one matchup that developed out of the double team as Schobel ran past linebacker Adalius Thomas down the middle of the field for his 45-yard touchdown catch. It was a play made by the offensive line, which offered terrific protection on the play.

(The line did give up four sacks, but none by the usual suspects like Thomas and linebacker Peter Boulware.)

The play came on the Bengals' sixth offensive snap and tied the game eight minutes in at seven, and very well may have saved the day because on the previous five plays there had been three incompletions and two runs for a minus yard.

"The hamstring is fine," said Schobel, who has been nagged with the injury the past month. "It felt good."

An approving Kitna thought so.

"We've got explosive guys, and when we've got Schobel running well, that makes us even more explosive," Kitna said. "That play got us going because we had blown some things and hadn't moved the ball at all."

Even Warrick's tiny little 21-yard had some flair. He caught it at the two-yard line in front of the secondary on what looked to be a come-back route, and then spun around inside and lunged for the touchdown.

"It's confidence. Kit and I always are always talking about having trust in each other," Warrick said. "You have to believe in him and he has to believe in you. Anything less is uncivilized."

On Sunday, Warrick and the long-ball offense showed they are now back in civilization after some dark days early in this same century.

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