11-11-01, 3:00 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. _ With wide receiver Darnay Scott out for the game with a neck strain, rookie T.J. Houshmandzadeh answered the call with the first three catches of his pro career to help give the Bengals a 13-7 half-time lead here against the Jaguars.
Kicker Neil Rackers took the cue and delivered the longest field goal of his career on a 52-yarder on the last play of the first half for his second field goal of the day and the club's longest since Doug Pelfrey's 54-yarder beat the Vikings at the Christmas Eve gun.
The Bengals made the push after losing Scott and left guard Matt O'Dwyer early in the second quarter with a left knee sprain.
Houshmandzadeh, who had three catches for 35 yards, and receiver Danny Farmer came off the bench to make third-down catches to keep alive a 59-yard touchdown drive. Running back Corey Dillon, who finished the half with 41 yards on 12 carries, capped the drive with his longest run of the day on a seven-yard sweep to the left for the touchdown that gave the Bengals a 10-7 lead with 4:03 left in the half.
Houshmandzadeh and receiver Peter Warrick made the run possible with blocks on the cornerbacks as Houshmandzadeh took out Aaron Beasley and Warrick took out Fernando Bryant.
Dillon had trouble getting going against a Jag defense that played tight to the line of scrimmage, so Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna threw 25 passes, hitting 14 for 148 yards.
Kitna's 31-yard pass to Warrick on third-and-seven got the Bengals back into a game they trailed, 7-3, with 9:33 left in the first half.
Rackers, pushed for his job back home by the practice squad's Jaret Holmes, kicked a 26-yard field goal to end a drive that had been set up by blitzing free safety Darryl Williams' sack of Jags quarterback Mark Brunell.
The Bengals kept good pressure on Brunell with two sacks (the other on an inside blitz from outside linebacker Takeo Spikes) and forced him out of the pocket several times. Brunell finished the half completing eight of 16 passes, but the longest was for just 14 yards.
The Bengals couldn't stay away from the game-changing mistakes and penalties early when they were backed up in their own end. A sack, a fumble, and a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on a punt put the Bengals into a 7-0 hole after the first
And their best drive of the quarter, a 13-play drive in which Dillon carried once, stalled when Warrick was called for going forward while he went in motion.
The penalty forced a punt, negating Kitna's third-down passes underneath the Jags' soft zone. Tight end Marco Battaglia caght one and Houshmandzadeh got one for his first NFL catch.
The tone for the first half got set in the first five minutes.
One play after Bengals left tackle Richmond Webb got a five-yard penalty for getting out of his stance too early, Jags defensive end Tony Brackens beat Webb inside on third down and knocked the ball from quarterback Jon Kitna in the end zone for Kitna's fourth fumble of the season.
Kitna recovered at his one, and on the ensuing punt, Bengals linebacker Adrian Ross was called for unnecessary roughess to give the ball to the Jaguars on the Cincinnati 14. Five plays later, running back Stacey Mack scored from one yard out to give the Jags a 7-0 lead with 8:18 left in the first quarter.
The Bengals had the ball for 9:17 in the quarter and had no points. Dillon had 19 yards on five carries and Brunell hit five of nine passes for 42 yards.
The groin injury to Fred Taylor ( three 100-yard games against the Bengals), has straitjacketed the Jags' running game. Their running backs had combined for just 25 carries in the previous two games and against the Bengals they started Frank Moreau, a second-year player who came into Sunday's game with six carries. His longest run is 14 yards on a team where Brunell has the longest with 38.
Robert Bean, the Bengals cornerback who missed the last game with a hamstring problem, responded well in pre-game warmups and started the game as the nickel cornerback.
The Bengals shelved veteran cornerback Tom Carter for the season on injured reserve Saturday after he re-aggravated his injured knee in Friday's practice.
His spot is taken on the roster by rookie Kevin Kaesviharn, whose journey from arena ball to the XFL to the NFL is now complete. With Carter gone, the Bengals are left with two rookie free agents in Kaesviharn and Bo Jennings and two second-year players in Bean and Mark Roman out of the five cornerbacks who face Jacksonville's Pro Bowl passing game Sunday. Four-year veteran Artrell Hawkins is the senior statesman with 53 NFL games compared to the combined 25 games from the other four.
Carter, a nine-year veteran, missed the last game with a partial tear of his posterior cruciate ligament, joins Rodney Heath on IR, where the Bengals now find their Opening Day starting left cornerback and nickel back.
"It's the kind of injury that's very difficult because of the position he plays," said Bengals trainer Paul Sparling. "There's a lot of running backwards and stopping and starting and there just wouldn't be any consistency of when he'd be available. He looked fine Wednesday and Thursday, but one break Friday put him right back where he was."
It marks the second straight Saturday before a game that Kaesviharn has been activated from the practice squad. Kaesviharn, 25, who was teaching high school gym in Sioux Falls, S.D., the week before his NFL debut against the Lions, has been on a whirlwind. He used last weekend's bye to go home and get clothes that he hadn't been able to pack because of his quick signing to the practice squad.
The Bengals took note of Kaesviharn's 23 interceptions in two years in the Arena Football League and three last year for the Los Angeles Demons in the XFL. He signed with the Packers after the XFL, but got cut at the end of training camp.
He didn't take a snap against Detroit, but played on special teams.