Mitchell ready in case

9-9-01, 12:50 P.M.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals got a thumbs-up and a thumbs-down in the hours before Sunday's opener against the Patriots at Paul Brown Stadium.

With wide receiver Danny Farmer's hyperextended knee still not 100 percent, the Bengals opted to dress just four receivers.

After watching quarterback Scott Mitchell work on his injured ankle in Saturday's walk through, Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau felt he was healthy enough to make the third quarterback behind starter Jon Kitna and No. 2 Akili Smith.

The Patriots were forced to scrub two key defensive starters in rookie tackle Richard Seymour, the club's first-round pick, and middle linebacker Ted Johnson. Rookie free agent Jace Sayler out of Michigan State got the start in place of Seymour and 11-year veteran Bryan Cox got the call for Johnson.

Mitchell severely sprained his ankle in the

Bengals' next-to-last play of the preseason in the Aug. 30 loss to the Colts. At first they feared Mitchell would be out six weeks, but he rebounded from an injury for the second straight year.

It was against these Patriots last year that Mitchell suffered a severe knee sprain on the Bengals' last drive of a 16-13 loss in New England and was thought to be gone for a good chunk of the season.

But Mitchell rested a week and returned to lead the Bengals to a 2-2 finish.

With Mitchell healthy, the Bengals deactivated quarterback Scott Covington Sunday for the game, as well as Farmer, running back Rudi Johnson, offensive linemen Jamain Stephens and Victor Leyva, wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and defensive lineman Mario Monds.

The idea of activating rookie defensive end Justin Smith less than 24 hours after he signed his contract didn't get much play in the Bengals' front office. The thought of exposing their $11.85 Million Man to injury after not wearing pads for nearly a year wasn't an attractive worst-case scenario.

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