Ravens pick off Bengals

12-23-01, 2:55 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

BALTIMORE _ Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna's woes continued here Sunday in the first half when his two interceptions killed Cincinnati's two drives into the red zone as Baltimore took a 13-0 half-time lead.

This one wasn't pretty. The Bengals had eight penalties (two were declined), struggling Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac hit 12 of 18 passes for 139 yards, and Kitna's passing rating for the half was 33.9 when he completed eight of 14 passes for 80 yards.

Bengals running back Corey Dillon's bid to break the Ravens' streak of 50 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher became Cincinnati's lone bright spot. Dillon, looking for his first 100-yard game since Oct. 28, went into the second half with 69 yards on 12 carries.

Working out of the two-minute drill at the end of the half, Kitna directed the Bengals to the Baltimore 20 with the help of rookie receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh's leaping 20-yard catch over the middle.

Then with 1:13 left in the half, Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett tipped Kitna's pass and the ball went high into the air. Kitna followed the ball and tried to spike it into the ground, but he batted it right into the arms of middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

Lewis' 30-yard return set up Matt Stover's 29-yard field goal as time ran out in the half.

The Bengals' defense came in with their own streak of seven straight games without giving up a 100-yard rusher, but their mastery against the run failed early in the game.

Ravens running back Terry Allen, playing in place leading rusher Jason Brookins, hurt them on the Ravens' second drive of the game. Allen ripped off a 22-yard run, the longest the Bengals have allowed a running back since Oct. 21, and it produced Stover's 43-yard field goal with 6:51 left in the first quarter to give the Ravens a 3-0 lead.

Allen, who had 34 yards on eight carries in the half, finished off a nine-play, 80-yard drive by walking in from four yards out for a touchdown that gave the Ravens a 10-0 lead with 13:35 left in the first half.

The Bengals had three penalties on the drive, two for first downs, with the biggest one a 15-yarder on tackle

Oliver Gibson for grabbing Grbac's facemask in the pocket.

The Bengals had success running against the NFL's second-best rush defense, some of the runs coming on draw plays against the blitz and others to the perimeter. Dillon ripped off 60 yards on his first nine carries and his backup, Brandon Bennett, picked up nine yards on a run that put the ball at the Ravens 17 when receiver Darnay Scott recovered his fumble.

But on first down, Kitna went for rookie receiver Chad Johnson in the back right corner of the end zone and cornerback Duane Starks leaped with in Johnson and intercepted it in front of him.

Baltimore deactivated defensive tackle Tony Siragusa with a foot problem, which gave Dillon more room for a running game that produced 82 yards in the first half.

The Bengals opted to deactivate running back Curtis Keaton for the first time this season in a move to get six receivers into the game. It also gives the Bengals a shot to look at Houshmandzadeh returning kicks, where Keaton hasn't broken many of his 42 tries with a 21.2-yard average.

When the Bengals have dressed five wide receivers, Danny Farmer has often been the odd man out. They want to give him more chances in a passing game that hasn't produced a play longer than 19 yards in December.

Plus, with the outside shot that receiver Peter Warrick has to play quarterback if Kitna and Scott Covington get hurt, they wanted to have a full complement of wideouts.

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