8-17-03, 8:30 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
After a week of tough love at Georgetown College, just maybe the Bengals are beginning to believe that the man not only means what he says, but that it just might work.
The Bengals played their first game at Paul Brown Stadium under head coach Marvin Lewis Saturday night and he did what he said he would. He played the best players, stressed discipline and defense, and paid homage to tradition.
And the Bengals were able to sit and savor their 23-10 victory over the Lions on the wooden stools in front of their lockers that Lewis said he wanted to get them after his first swing through the locker room last January.
"We're becoming confident and it's the way Coach Lewis is coaching us," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "It's going to work and it will
work. We see it and we'll build on it. We know we're going to win some games. It's just a matter of how much. Shoot, I think we're going to win a lot of games the way Detroit handled Pittsburgh."
Lewis had the big post-game smile and chuckle, but don't let that fool you. He was just coming off a week in which he responded sternly to their poor 28-13 showing in New York last Sunday. He called players out in a team film session, he slid people down the depth chart, and he gave a candid interview to "Sports Illustrated," in which he said only a handful of players had bought into his program so far.
And, no, he didn't want to take one of the game balls for a souvenir. In fact, he won't start counting wins until Sept. 7.
"It's preseason. I don't want a ball. It doesn't count," Lewis said. "No one is ever going to remember what we did in preseason."
What Lewis will remember is that he needs to get the running game going behind that first offensive line. The Bengals averaged just 3.4 yards per rush in the first half and had some awkward moments with the Lions' big, athletic front. The Bengals allowed their first and only sack of the preseason when Jon Kitna got dumped in the first half, he got called for intentional grounding in the face of a big rush, and the Bengals rushed five times once inside the Lions' 20,, but could only get eight yards.
"We've still got to get better running the ball. We'll look at that," said Lewis, who took a look at Victor Leyva in place of Matt O'Dwyer at right guard with the first group.
He also started Adrian Ross at left outside linebacker in place of Steve Foley, a move he made in practice after the Jets' game.
"Right now, Adrian's doing a better job of executing what we need to have done and I keep saying the same thing repetitively — we're going to play the guys who are the best players and get done what we have to get done," Lewis said. ""We're looking at all our guys everyday and Victor was in there at the guard position and tweaked an ankle and fought back and came back at the end of the game, which was great to see."
T.J. HAS A DAY: Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh made the most of Peter Warrick's absence, but he planned to call his friend down in Florida and tell him "to get his butt back here."
"I'm going to call him tonight and see how the funeral (of Warrick's grandfather) went," Houshmandzadeh said. "And tell him how we did. If he had been here, would I still have done what I did? Who knows?"
Houshmandzadeh took over Warrick's role at punt return and broke one 39 yards to help stake the Bengals to a 3-0 lead. Lions rookie linebacker Boss Bailey is still looking for his self-esteem after Houshmandzadeh's major-league juke on him, and Houshmandzadeh added a 30-yard touchdown catch from Carson Palmer
"They haven't forgotten how I dropped that punt against Cleveland and I guess that's cool," said Houshmandzadeh of last season , when his fumbles against the Browns and Steelers helped cost the Bengals' games.
But the Bengals are now using a different blocking scheme and it showed some dividends. Plus, "It helped it was a short kick," Houshmandzadeh said. ""I should have scored. I'll score when it's for real. I didn't accelerate when I got by the punter. I've got to start accelerating after I make my cuts."
Houshmandzadeh was just relieved to get in a game for the first time after missing nearly two weeks of camp with a hamstring problem. He showed no hitch breezing past cornerback Blue Adams for the score.
"I don't want to talk badly about that guy, but he's a backup," Houshmandzadeh said. "Whether I am or not, I consider myself a starter and I should do that."
STUNTS AND SCREENS: As bad as special teams were last Sunday, they were as good Saturday. Neil Rackers hit all three field-goal tries from 44, 31, and 21 yards. Holder Nick Harris, who dropped two snaps against the Jets, pulled down a high one Saturday. T.J. Houshmandzadeh ripped off a 39-yard punt return and Travis Dorsch boomed a punt 58 yards that got only returned three yards. . .
It wasn't the first hit that re-assured rookie wide receiver Kelley Washington Saturday night. It was
the second one, a seven-yard pass from Jon Kitna that went to the Lions 9 for a first down. Washington had to go down and get it, and cornerback Chris Cash, who led all NFL DBs in tackles last season, gave him a good shot around the head as went to the ground. It's just what Washington wanted.
"I got hit pretty good. He hit me right in the neck area. It just felt good to take a hit and to get back up again," Washington said. "It just felt good to get it out of the way and to get back up and look up to the Lord and thank him and continue to play ball."
With the team's permission. Washington left last weekend the night before the game and went to Dallas to get a second opinion on his neck injury that shelved him for all but four games last season at Tennessee. He ended up with two catches for 12 yards and nearly had a leaping 35-yard touchdown catch from Kitna in the first quarter.
"He tipped it at the last minute," said Washington of Lions cornerback Andre Goodman. "But that's the type of player I am. I think I should be able to make a play like that. I was glad I was able to get in there with the first group and get time with all the quarterbacks. I just wanted to show the team I could hustle and block."