Mitchell laughs last

8-10-01, 10:40 P.M.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

PONTIAC, Mich. _ Bengals quarterback Scott Mitchell silenced the cascading boos of the Pontiac Silverdome and marched himself smack into the middle of the Bengals quarterback derby Friday night.

Mitchell, who led the Lions to three playoff berths in the mid-'90s, led the Bengals on three second-half scoring drives and a 27-24 victory.

In the final drive that consumed 5:10 and 12 plays, Mitchell hit all five of his passes for 44 yards to set up Neil Rackers' last-play 34-yard field goal to give the Bengals' their first pre-season road win in four years. Wide receiver Damon Griffin caught four of the balls for 34 yards and rookie running back Rudi Johnson carried six times for 30 of his game-high 76 yards.

The Silverdome crowd no doubt recalled that Mitchell's last pass here as a Lion resulted in an interception and a Bengals' victory in overtime three years ago.

Mitchell completed 12 of 19 passes for 140 yards and rebounded from an interception early in the fourth quarter while shrugging off the boos.

"Nothing surprises me anymore," Mitchell said. "I've decided to move on with my life and am very comfortable where I'm at."

Where he is at is as a center of the Bengals' quarterback picture. He starts their next game, the Aug. 25 home opener against the Bills.

"It's a good problem to have," said Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau. "If they all still have a chance, that means they're doing well enough to stay in it."

Mitchell's play forced LeBeau to change gears and keep Mitchell in the fourth quarter instead of turning back to Akili Smith, Friday night's starter.

After throwing a 24-yard pass to wide receiver Danny Farmer, Mitchell found rookie wide receiver Chad Johnson for a 16-yard touchdown pass off a play-action bootleg that tied the game in the first 2:23 of the fourth quarter.

Earlier, Mitchell took Cincinnati on a 13-play, 55-yard touchdown drive that cut Detroit's lead to 24-17 with a little more than three minutes left in the third quarter.

Backup fullback Clif Groce scored on a two-yard run after Mitchell hit throws of 13 yards to receiver Ron Dugans and eight yards to tight end Brad St. Louis.

The Bengals' defense, except for allowing a big play on the second snap of the game, pretty much held up its end of the deal. Defensive end Reinard Wilson had two sacks and forced the fumble of quarterback Mike McMahon recovered by defensive tackle Glen Steele to set up the winning drive.

Plus, free safety Chris Carter set up a touchdown with an interception of backup quarterback Jim Harbaugh.

The Bengals would have been in good shape if they had an answer for second-year receiver Larry Foster on an overall sloppy night for the visitors.

Foster opened the second half bolting 101 yards for a touchown on the kickoff. That came after he went 80 yards on a Will Brice punt for a touchdown early in the second quarter.

Quarterback Jon Kitna led the first offense to a late second-quarter field goal that pulled

the Bengals within 17-10 at halftime.

Kitna, who threw a bad interception on his previous drive to give the Lions a field goal, rebounded with a 10-play, 66-yard drive in 2:20 that resulted in Richie Cunningham's 26-yard field goal at the half-time gun.

The fact the Bengals were that close was amazing after such a shoddy first half. The offensive line continued its early-season woes and gave up all seven sacks in the half alone, four of them to second-year defensive end James Hall.

Wide receiver Darnay Scott fumbled the ball away inside the Lions 10, Foster returned his punt, and Smith was flagged for two delay-of-game penalties.

But Kitna, 6 of 11 for 75 yards, hit Scott on a nine-yard slant pattern for a touchdown that cut Detroit's lead to 14-7 with 6:19 left in the first half.

"We came out slow, but we got the game stabilized by halftime," LeBeau said. "That was a good two-minute drive."

Kitna's touchdown pass was his first throw in relief of Smith during an outing in which Smith didn't get any help at all from the shaky line.

Smith bobbed and weaved, hitting three of seven passes for 87 yards. Chad Johnson outfought cornerback Chidi Iwuoma for Smith's end-zone heave at midfield, and a few players later Smith hit Scott for a 27-yarder near the Lions' five-yard line, but he fumbled the ball away.

Other than that, Smith had to feel he was stuck in last year's time warp. He was sacked four times (five total) on the Bengals' first three series, fumbled twice, and was knocked to the turf at least twice more against a suffocating pass rush.

On Detroit's second play of the night, quarterback Charlie Batch took adavantage of a blown coverage and hit wide-open wide receiver Johnny Morton down the right sideline for a 53-yard touchdown 1:49 into the Matt Millen era for a 7-0 lead that stood up for the rest of the first quarter.

Then early in the second quarter, long snapper Brad St. Louis got down field but couldn't corral Foster on an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown that gave the Lions a 14-0 lead.

But Carter got the Bengals back in it when he picked Harbaugh over the middle and returned it to the Lions 16 to set up Scott's touchdown.

On a third-and-short, Kitna saw Scott matched one-on-one with cornerback Robert Bailey and jammed it into him for Kitna's first touchdown pass a Bengal.

In his two-minute drill, Kitna found Warrick twice for 31 yards, tight end Tony McGee once for 21 yards and got Cunningham into position on a nine-yard pass to Scott.

Kitna threw his interception right at Lions linebacker Barrett Green and he took it to the Bengals 15. But the defense held and allowed Jason Hanson's 29-yard field goal.

One of the only positive early notes for the Bengals came when Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon took the first two snaps, didn't touch the ball, and left the same field unscathed where six years before Ki-Jana Carter tore up his knee in a pre-season game.

Backup right tackle Jamain Stephens, playing for injured Willie Anderson (ankle) appeared to be one of the players struggling on the pass rush. The disturbing thing is that the Lions were playing without two of their starting linemen in Tracy Scroggins and Luther Elliss.

Smith managed to scramble for one first down on third-and-nine, but running back Brandon Bennett dropped a third-down pass, Smith overthrew Scott on a bomb, and he missed Peter Warrick on a third-down pass when he got drilled to the turf.

The Bengals' first-team offense sought its first touchdown of the season since poor protection hampered Kitna's outing in the first half last week. He threw for just 65 yards against constant pressure while the Bengals converted one of seven third-down tries in a first half they managed just 98 yards in Chicago.

Bengals outside linebackers Takeo Spikes (ankle) and Steve Foley (rib) didn't play, giving more work to Canute Curtis and Armegis Spearman.

The Lions were without wide receivers Herman Moore (shoulder) and Germane Crowell (thigh), as well as tight end David Sloan.

In other news, tackle Mike Doughty says he's still trying to decide if he'll re-join the team after walking out of camp last Monday night disappoined with his chances of making the roster.

If Doughty doesn't come back by Monday, he won't be able to play for any other team while the Bengals keep his rights.

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