9-9-01, 11:05 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
As Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna walked out of the locker room Sunday, defensive tackle Oliver Gibson stuck out his hand.
"It's a lot easier to pass rush with 23 points on the board," Gibson told him.
Meanwhile, Kitna offered a hand to Darnay Scott, the Bengals' speed receiver who caught five balls for 104 yards during his maiden run on the Paul Brown Stadium grass. Scott, playing his first game since missing all last season with a broken leg, showed how he can fracture defenses in a new scheme the Bengals hope heals a pass offense that finished last in the NFL last season.
How long has Scott been playing? This was his 11th 100-yard day with a fifth different quarterback as Kitna joins Jeff Blake, Boomer Esiason, Neil O'Donnell and Akili Smith.
Remember last year when the Bengals had just 15 passes of 20 yards or more to wide receivers? Remember they had none in eight games? On Sunday, Scott had two for more than 20 and two of 19.
Throw in new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's use of Corey Dillon in the passing game and the Bengals hope they are finally rid of the eight-man fronts that have made life miserable for their Pro Bowl running back.
"In my mind, the first play of the second half changed the game when Darnay ran that go route," Kitna said. "It changed everything for them defensively. They couldn't leave him out there."
Scott blew past Patriots cornerback Otis Smith and made a diving 34-yard catch on the Bengals' first snap of the second half. That set up Neil Rackers' career-long 47-yard field goal to give the Bengals the lead for good at 13-10.
But fast forward to six seconds left in the third quarter and the Bengals leading, 16-10. On first down, Kitna sent them out in the same
formation that led to Scott's big play: Two receivers (Scott and Peter Warrick) and two tight ends (Tony McGee and Marco Battaglia) with Battaglia split wide.
"They were so worried about the outside guys," Kitna said, "that they left Tony wide open in the middle of the field. . .And it changed the way they played the run."
McGee was so wide open, it was a 25-yard touchdown catch for another guy who suffered last year without Scott's speed and experience. He had just one touchdown all last season.
The Bengals young Darnay, rookie receiver Chad Johnson, played only about 25 snaps because Cincinnati was worried about New England's blitzes against formations with three wide receivers.
"(Scott) helps tremendously," said Dillon after his 19th career 100-yard game. "Just to see honest defenses rather than eight-man fronts and (teams) bringing the whole house. I (saw that) all last year. It's going to take a lot of stress off me. It gives me a lot of running room."
The Bengals were expecting more of the man-to-man coverage the Patriots played when Cincinnati lost to them, 16-13, last year.
" They gave us more cover two than we thought," said Scott of the soft coverage. "Now you see if we get cover 2, we'll go at you with the hard runs. If it's man on. . .we'll hit them on the big ones."
Here's how much the Bengals missed a receiver of Scott's experience last year, when they came into Opening Day with five receivers who had a combined 15 NFL catches.
On a third-and-10 from the New England 45 and the Bengals holding that 13-10 lead, Kitna sent Scott on a hook pattern. But Scott saw cornerback Terrell Buckley pressing him, so he broke off the route and broke past Buckley. Kitna saw it and floated a 24-yard pass over Buckley and in front of free safety Tebucky Jones on the sideline for a first down. That set up Rackers' 33-yard field goal.
"He was confused and I must have got confused and he just got in the hole," Kitna said. "That happens when you play football."
The happy-go-lucky Scott was just happy. After some of his catches, he flipped the ball high in the air to himself. He remembered those days back home in St. Louis last year when he just couldn't bear to turn on the TV and watch them play.
"I'm back and I'm happy," Scott said. "I caught the ball well. I'm just letting everybody know I'm not playing around this year. I'm going for what I got to go for."
Scott is also happy that Dillon is running some pass routes. He says that gives him more room because it draws a linebacker to Dillon while the safety is backing up. Dillon laughed when he heard some teammates were calling him another Marshall Faulk after he caught four balls for 32 yards. That tied his most catches last year.
"They're stretching that," Dillon said. "I'm just there to help out if it gets congested and we need an outlet if he gets some pressure. He hit me a few times.
"I'm a pretty good receiver," said Dillon, who clearly enjoys showing the naysayers he can catch. "That's all I used to do (as a kid). I never played running back. It's just another weapon for the offense."
Dillon said he's so dialed into the game that he didn't hear the announcement early in the fourth quarter that he passed the 5,000-yard mark for his career.
A good thing. With the Pats going all-out against the run and bringing up both safeties, Dillon lost 10 yards on his last five carries and dropped to 4,998.
With 2:28 left in the game, the Bengals lost six yards on three Dillon runs to give the Pats one last chance and Scott was looking for something else.
"We played a little conservative," Scott said. "Some week we've got to get out of that. . .If we've got the lead, let's run with it. Let's ride."
The offense needed some of that from Scott, too. Not just the speed and savvy, but the swagger.