8-17-02, 10:05 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
INDIANAPOLIS _ On a night Bengals rookie free safety Lamont Thompson offered his first NFL interception to end the game's first drive, the Colts turned the tide on two Cincinnati turnovers to take a 10-3 half-time lead.
In an effort to get a better handle on his quarterbacks Saturday night, Bengals head Dick LeBeau pulled a mid-game switch here in the RCA Dome and went with starter Gus Frerotte into the first series of the second quarter.
But it was Jon Kitna who took another step in his derby with Frerotte when he generated the Bengals' only points of the half out of a two-minute drill that ended with rookie Travis Dorsch's 29-yard field goal with 49 seconds left.
But like Frerotte, Kitna was hounded by the mistakes of his sloppy teammates. Just before the field goal, running back Curtis Keaton's 12-yard touchdown run was wiped out by rookie tight end Matt Schobel's holding penalty. A 15-yard personal foul on left guard Matt O'Dwyer when he tangled with Colts end Chad Bratzke also didn't help the drive.
"It's basically an even game, but we're behind on the scoreboard because we keep shooting ourselves in the foot," said Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau. "All their points are off turnovers. We moved the ball pretty well down the field at the end of the half, but another mistake nullified a touchdown. We've got to get those mistakes tied down."
But Kitna overcame the miscues by again converting some big third-down passes as he did last week in Buffalo. He found wide receiver Peter Warrick for one on a quickout, and he
found Schobel twice in his NFL debut on throws of nine and 10 yards, respectively over the middle to get the first down.
Kitna, looking in command of the offense, hit seven off 11 passes for 60 yards before giving way to Akili Smith at the start of the second half.
The only points Frerotte produced in his three series were seven points for the Colts when second-year nickel back Nick Harper returned a Frerotte interception 77 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter.
Frerotte, who was supposed to play only the first quarter, finished six of 10 passing for 56 yards and threw an interception for the second straight game.
But he had his arm hit on the pass that floated in the direction of wide receiver Ron Dugans. Dugans appeared to be open in the right flat, but the ball went right to Harper, a second-year nickel back, and he barely got touched going down the left sideline.
As sharp as the Bengals looked on offense last week, they looked as out of sorts after the two-hour bus ride from Paul Brown Stadium. On Kitna's first two snaps, Keaton fumbled the ball back to the Colts and rookie left tackle Levi Jones got flagged for failing to line up on the line of scrimmage. The fumble turned into Mike Vanderjagt's 22-yard field goal that gave the Colts a 10-0 lead.
Two of Frerotte's drives started inside his own 16-yard-line when tight end Brad St. Louis and rookie linebacker Tito Rodriguez were called for penalties on a kick and punt return, respectively.
Frerotte's last drive was short-circuited when he couldn't hook up with Keaton on a second-down pass over the middle, and then on the next play Keaton appeared to have the first down on another pass, but linebacker David Thornton gave him a big shot and popped the ball incomplete.
Thompson rescued the Bengals defense from the cannon of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. They let him fire for the game's first eight minutes as he converted his first five attempts as well as two passes of third-and-10 and longer. But on a second-and-16 from the Bengals 32, Thompson did what Cincinnati drafted him to do. He ranged across the middle and picked off a pass attempted for Reggie Wayne at the Bengals 5 and returned it 38 yards.
"I give the pass rushers all the credit for that one," Thompson said. "That ball was just up there floating in the air and I went and got it. I almost had to fair-catch it."