11-24-02, 3:10 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
PITTSBURGH _ The Bengals finally scored from in close Sunday and closed a first-half shootout at Heinz Field to 17-14 with the Steelers holding on.
Bengals running back Corey Dillon, stopped twice on the doorstep in Paul Brown Stadium last week, scored from two yards out with 1:04 left in the half when he carried linebacker Mike Jones and safety Brent Alexander into the end zone on second and third effort on third-and-one.
Quarterback Jon Kitna, who lit up the Steelers for 411 passing yards last year, was halfway there when he hit 12 of 17 passes for 212 yards as the Bengals scrambled back from a 17-0 deficit.
Kitna hurt Pittsburgh just like Tennessee did the week before when he converted five of seven third downs, with first downs coming on passes of 20, 15, 36 and 55 yards.
Chad Johnson took only a half to become the first Bengals receiver since Carl Pickens in 1994 to record three straight 100-yard days. Johnson took advantage of the shoddy field conditions as he ran away from the falling Steeler secondary for a 55-yard play on third-and-10, and then he set up Dillon's run when he made a leaping 19-yard catch at the Steeler 2 to finish the half with 110 yards on four catches.
Dillon, who had 32 yards on 10 carries, also scored with 7:39 left in the second quarter when he followed fullback Lorenzo Neal and right tackle Willie Anderson for a 10-yard touchdown around the outside that cut the lead to 17-7.
It took the Steelers a mere dozen minutes and 103 yards from wide receiver Hines Ward to gain the upper hand in this one when they went up
17-0 on their first three drives to jolt Cincinnati out of any kind of game plan.
Ward's 39-yard run off a reverse set up running back Jerome Bettis' one-yard touchdown run and Ward's 64-yard touchdown catch against gambling cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn made it 14-0 before wide receiver Plaxico Burress abused Kaesviharn for a pass-interference penalty and a 15-yard gain in front of him that led to rookie Jeff Reed's first NFL field goal from yards.
Kaesviharn played because Jeff Burris saw little time in the first half as he tries to recover from his migraine headaches, but Burris did play more in the second. The Bengals were also without defensive end Vaughn Booker (rib cage, knee), but they did a good job keeping Bettis quiet in the first half, holding him to 13 yards on 10 carries.
But quarterback Kordell Stewart proved to be more of a problem in his pinch-hitting role for Tommy Maddox. He not only led the Steelers in rushing with 41 yards on six carries, but he hit his first seven passes for 127 yards and finished the half 11 of 13 for 155 yards with no interceptions and no sacks.
The Bengals beefed up for Bettis when they replaced rookie Marquand Manuel with JoJuan Armour at strong safety in the starting lineup.
Cincinnati suffered a damaging blow on the opening kickoff of the second half when Brandon Bennett limped off the field after his 62-yard return put the Bengals at the Steelers 40. But the hyperextended knee ended his day.
The Bengals didn't get any points out of the return when they lost six yards on a botched handoff between Kitna and Dillon. Then head coach Dick LeBeau sent out Neil Rackers for a 47-yard field goal, but opted to punt it to the Pittsburgh 14.