Steelers lead defensive duel

9-21-03, 3 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

It took the Bengals nearly six halves of football to give up their first passing touchdown of the season.

But it came with 1:46 left in the first half to break-up the scoreless duel here at Paul Brown Stadium on a monster second effort by wide receiver Hines Ward that gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead at the half here at Paul Brown Stadium.

The news got worse when they came out of the locker room for the second half. After carrying just seven times for 26 yards, Corey Dillon was sidelined for the rest of the game with a groin injury. Tight end Matt Schobel also appeared to re-aggravate the hamstring he hurt last week and was also lost for the afternoon.

On third-and-goal from the Bengals 7, Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox hit Ward at the 1-yard line, where Bengals free safety Mark Roman, with help from outside linebacker Brian Simmons, stood up Ward, dragged him back to the 2, and appeared to stop his forward progress. But when Steelers fullback Dan Kreider and Bengals defensive end Carl Powell joined the pile, Ward got pushed just enough to get the ball to the goal line.

Since the play occurred after the two-minute warning, the only challenge can from the replay booth itself.

The Steelers, who usually reserve their fakery for the offense, faked out the Bengals when they pulled off a fake field goal three plays before the touchdown. With Maddox holding for Jeff Reed's 50-yarder, he took the snap, stood up, and found tight end Jermane Tuman all by himself in the Bengals' right flat for a 23-yard play that put the ball on the Cincinnati 9. Cornerback Reggie Myles came all the way from the left side to wheel Tuman out of bounds.

But the Cincinnati defense couldn't have played much better after they yielded 12 plays on the game's

opening drive, which resulted in Reed's first field-goal miss of the season on a wide 24-yard attempt. Steelers running back Amos Zereoue had just 42 yards on 11 carries in the first half.

They also smoked out two reverses (one was a six-yard loss to wide receiver Plaxico Burress), and middle linebacker Kevin Hardy blitzed up the middle to knock down Maddox's second-down pass to force Reed's miss.

But the Bengals couldn't finish off drives after quarterback Jon Kitna threw his second red-zone interception in as many weeks on their opening series. On a third-and-two from the Steeler 36, Kitna tried to hit Chad Johnson a stop route to his hip, but Johnson took the route down field instead of stopping.

Then, rookie fullback Jeremi Johnson blew up the next drive that had reached the Steelers 39 when he jumped before the snap, and then Steelers linebacker James Farrior made back-to-back open field tackles on wide receiver Peter Warrick and running back Brandon Bennett after they caught passes in the middle of the field.

After Kitna threw for 411 yards against the Steelers in the next-to-last game of the 2001 season, the Bengals have been able to throw on them out of spread formations. But they threw one pass too many in their opening drive.

On first-and-10 from the Steeler 17, Kitna attempted Cincinnati's fifth straight pass in the drive, but Steelers cornerback Chad Scott was draped all over Warrick on a high pass. Scott tipped it into the air and linebacker Jason Gildon picked it off the eight-yard line.

Chad Johnson, who was out of the starting lineup for disciplinary reasons, did get into the game on that first series and got them into the red zone on another over-the-head 31-yard catch on the sideline.

After holding quarterbacks Jake Plummer and Rich Gannon to a combined passer rating under 40 in the first two games, Maddox racked up a 101.9 rating in the first half on 16 of 23 passing for 151 yards. Kitna hit eight of 10 passes for 92 yards and got sacked once.

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