8-10-01, 10:20 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 two second-half touchdown drives that tied the game at 24 early in the fourth quarter.
His play forced head coach Dick LeBeau to change gears and keep Mitchell in the fourth quarter instead of turning back to Smith.
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 two minutes 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 12 yards to receiver Ron Dugans and eight yards to tight end Brad St. Louis.
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.
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.
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 for the first three quarters. Defensive end Reinard Wilson had two sacks and free safety Chris Carter set up a touchdown with an interception of backup quarterback Jim Harbaugh.
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, 65-yard drive in 2:20 that resulted in Richie Cunningham's 26-yard field goal.
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 six 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 quarterback Akili 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," said Bengals coach Dick LeBeau. "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 two of six passes for 78 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 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 47-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 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.
Smith, who led the Bengals to their only touchdown last week in Chicago, was set to work the first quarter and a half and then come back in the fourth quarter.
Scott Mitchell made his return to the Pontiac Silverdome in the third quarter to a chorous of boos.
Bengals outside linebackers Takeo Spikes (ankle) and Steve Foley (shoulder) 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.