Smith benched for Mitchell

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The fallout came quickly Monday after the Cowboys registered a 23-6 victory over Cincinnati. Bengals coach Dick LeBeau benched quarterback Akili Smith in favor of backup Scott Mitchell for this Sunday's game in New England.

"This doesn't mean we're giving up on Akili Smith," LeBeau said. "We think he needs a breather, some time to step back and watch."

It just gets worse for Smith. He hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since Oct. 1, thrown a pass for more than 20 yards to a wide receiver since Sept. 17, and has finished off just five touchdown drives in his last 13 starts.

But after completing 10 of 25 passes for 68 yards and an interception, Smith said after the game he wanted no part of the bench.

"No way," Smith said when asked if he needed a week off to regroup. "Would you want to sit down from what you do for a week? I'm a competitor. I'm getting ready for New England. It's Coach LeBeau's decision, but my attitude is I'm planning on being out there."

But LeBeau has made moves everywhere else. In fact, as recently as Sunday's second half when he benched eight-year cornerback Tom Carter in favor of rookie Robert Bean.

That was after Carter got beat for the Cowboys' first touchdown, a 35-yard pass from quarterback Troy Aikman to receiver James McKnight, and set up Dallas' other touchdown with his second pass interference penalty of the game.

That was a killer because it was a 34-yarder on former Bengal Jason Tucker on 3rd-and-19 from the Cincinnati 38.

It was little consolation for Carter that the Bengals' pass rush (no sacks, little pressure) helped allow the Cowboys' 27th-rated pass offense to light it up for 308 yards.

"We're going to look at everybody and see what we've got," LeBeau said. "When guys are having trouble, we're going to get him out of there."

Carter knows where LeBeau is coming from.

"That's always been Coach LeBeau's thing from day one," Carter said. "If you're not making the plays, he'll try to tweak some things and get something happening."

What is happening, for the most part, is the defense. They kept the Bengals close, but when the offense had the ball for only 10 minutes in the second half, the defense wilted.

Even Akili Smith offered Sunday, "I feel extremely bad (for the defense)."

Defensive captain Takeo Spikes doesn't want to split the locker room and he chose his words carefully about the pressure playing with a struggling offense.

"Offense thrives off defense. Defense thrives off offense," Spikes said. "The defense is only going to be good as the other (unit) is going to be. We held our own defensively. We came in and made some key stops.

"If you don't put any points on the board, it's hard. I don't care who you're playing for," Spikes said. " Baltimore. See what happened to them? We need to get that momentum shift back. Take the momentum, drive down, and score. And we didn't do that."

Since Spikes was drafted in 1998, the Bengals are 9-33 and it's getting harder to hold in the frustration.

"I don't know of any team that makes the playoffs with eight losses," Spikes said. "So we're playing for pride. I've got plenty of that. It never runs out. I just wish I could take it out and give it out to everybody.

"It's time for people to look in the mirror," Spikes said. "Hey man, you've got to be accountable, you can't depend on anybody else to make a play for you. We're shooting ourselves in the foot."

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What had Bengals right tackle Willie Anderson confounded was that running back Corey Dillon ran 94 yards for 20 carries against the NFL's worst defense against the run, and Smith didn't get all that much heat on the pass rush.

"That's the question you ask yourself," Anderson said. "I beat myself in the head, trying to figure it out. . .I thought we could really pound them. We couldn't get the ball in the second half and fell behind and couldn't run it anymore after we ran up and down the field on them in the first half. We dominated them. . .Right now, we're pretty one-dimensional."

Anderson has to look at only two curious special teams plays in the second half to figure out why the Bengals couldn't get the ball.

With Cincinnati trailing, 17-6, Bengals punter Daniel Pope let the snap slide through his hands and the Cowboys (4-6) recovered at the Bengals 26. When Tim Seder kicked a 35-yard field goal, it was 20-6 with 1:56 left in the third quarter.

Then the wheels came off early in the fourth quarter when Bengals kicker Neil Rackers lined up a 42-yard field goal and Pope handled a high snap as the holder.

Pope said he chose to quick kick because he couldn't get the snap down in time. The ball rolled into the end zone for a touchback, but Pope thought he put it on the 1-yard-line and didn't get the call.

Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman enjoyed his first 300-yard passing day of a miserable season and McKnight picked up 164 yards on his eight catches.

Aikman's 25-yard pass to Wayne McGarity set up Seder's 43-yard field goal on the first series of the second half, and on the next series the 34-yard pass interference penalty on Carter against Tucker set up Seder's one-yard touchdown run off a fake field goal.

Special teams coach Al Roberts took the blame for the play because he said he split Spikes too far to the outside, allowing Seder to cut it inside.

The troubles of left tackle Rod Jones continued on that second series. Starter John Jackson re-injured his hamstring and is out for the next two to four weeks.

Jones went into the game in the second quarter and with about nine minutes left in the third quarter, Jones let Cowboys end Ebenezer Ekuban race around his outside and cause Akili Smith's fourth sack-and-fumble of the season from the left side.

Dallas recovered at the Cincinnati 29 and Aikman went to work again. The Hall-of-Fame combination of Aikman and running back Emmitt Smith surfaced in the second quarter as Dallas took a 7-6 half-time lead.

The Bengals survived all sorts of bullets from the Cowboys during the first half in getting field goals of 22 and 37 yards from Rackers.. Seder missed field-goal attempts from 39 and 44 yards, and Emmitt Smith fumbled on the one-foot line to end the Cowboys' first series of the game. It was Spikes who recovered, but like he said, the offense couldn't ride the wave.

The Bengals' first scoring drive of 16 plays and 67 yards was costly because Jackson re-injured his hamstring.

Backup running back Brandon Bennett converted two third-down situations through the heart of the Cowboys' injury-riddled front as Cincinnati put the ball on the Dallas 8.

But from there the Bengals were unsuccessful sending Dillon wide against the speedy Dallas defense. They then tried passes on second and third down, with Akili Smith overthrowing Warrick in the end zone.

The Bengals stalled on their next series after Dillon's 11-yard run put the ball on the Dallas 20. Smith's incomplete pass on first down led to Rackers' 37-yard field goal.

When Bengals free safety Darryl Williams forced Emmitt Smith to fumble on the Cincinnati one-foot line, that set a strange tone. The Bengals held Smith and his No. 8 rush offense to 13 yards in the first half, 97 for the game.

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