BY GEOFF HOBSON
Quarterbacks Akili Smith and Cade McNown renewed their college shooutout during a wild first half of the Paul Brown Stadium opener that featured Smith throwing his first two touchdowns of the season while the Bengals scored 21 straight points to take a 21-14 lead.
With 14 seconds left in the half, Bears rookie Paul Edinger kicked a 40-yard field to goal to cut the Bengals lead to 21-17.
How passionate were the Bengals about this one? Facing a 4rth-and-1 from the Bears 16 in the middle of the second quarter, coach Bruce Coslet opted to go for it with a play-action pass into the end zone to rookie receiver Peter Warrick. Bears cornerback Jerry Azumah was called for pass interference, setting up Smith's bullet touchdown pass over the middle to Warrick's Florida State teammate Ron Dugans that gave Cincinnat a 21-14 lead.
With the Bengals trailing, 14-0, it was Warrick's turn. He broke in the Bengals' striped end zones with the "Paul Brown Pounce," after scoring his first NFL touchdown off a 14-yard reverse. Warrick put on a move that screwed strong safety Tony Parrish into the grass and when Warrick reached the stands he jumped on the wall and got pummelled by the front-row fans. Warrick gave the fans some money's worth when he kept that drive alive by converting a third down on a shovel pass and run.
Then Smith, who couldn't get a first down in his first two series, got hot. After missing on his first three passes, he finished the half 14-for-19 for 147 yards and no interceptions.
On the first play after reversing to Warrick, Smith found Warrick again for a 23-yard gain on a play-action pass on first down. Then Smith did what Jeff Blake never did. Smith found tight end Tony McGee not once, but twice over the middle on the same drive. The first one went for 31 yards and the second one went for 11 and a touchdown.
Smith's haymakers were in response to McNown's opening flurry that featured a pair of 45-yard touchdown passes to wide receiver Marcus Robinson in the stadium's first 9:14. On McNown's first series, he found Robinson all alone down the left sideline against the Cincinnati skyline and floated it up as he rolled away from blitzing cornerback Artrell Hawkins.
Then on the next series, facing a 2nd-and-12, McNown hit Robinson with a little flip on the wide receiver screen and Robinson ran away from the defense to give the Bears a 14-0 lead and get the fans to wondering if they still weren't sitting at Cinergy Field. UCLA's McNown, who beat Smith's Oregon team in overtime two years, hit his first seven passes and finished the half 12-for-16 for 144 yards.