Steelers start fast

BY GEOFF HOBSON

PITTSBURGH _ The Steelers stunned the Bengals on the second play of the game Sunday when quarterback Kent Graham threw his first touchdown of the season and receiver Hines Ward caught his first touchdown of the season from 77 yards out.

Graham, the controversial starter in place of Kordell Stewart, changed the play at the line of scrimmage and chalked up Pittsburgh's second touchdown pass in 20 quarters and the Steelers' longest pass play in six years.

Graham saw Ward matched up one-on-one with cornerback Rodney Heath and hit him down the middle. When strong safety Cory Hall came up to pop Ward, Hall and Heath bounced off the receiver and Ward had no one in front of him.

Hall complained of light-headedness after the hit and his return was questionable. Chris Carter replaced him on the next series.

The Bengals had to punt on their first series even though quarterback Akili Smith hit his first three passes for 28 yards, two for first downs. But the drive ended at mid-field when Smith took a coverage sack from linebacker Jason Gildon.

The Bengals prepared to see Steelers running back Jerome Bettis all day and opted to start defensive tackle Glen Steele in place of the banged-up Tom Barndt

But Graham came out throwing. He hit six of his first seven passes for 121 yards to four different receivers.

In an effort to juice up the NFL's last-rated offense, the Bengals gave wide receiver Craig Yeast his first NFL start and activated rookie running back Curtis Keaton for the first time.

Yeast, a second-year player with six catches for 74 yards, replaces rookie Ron Dugans at split end. Dugans, working opposite college teammate and fellow rookie Peter Warrick, has nine catches for 72 yards since being named the Opening Day starter.

Warrick, who didn't get a catch until the last two minutes last week, caught a seven-yarder on the Bengals' first play.

On the second series, Yeast dropped a pass that would have taken the Bengals out of a hole inside their own 5-yard line. But they ended up punting and the Steelers got the ball at the Bengals' 49 with 1:46 left in the first quarter.

"We're trying to get our best playmakers on the field and Craig has shown an ability to break stuff," said Bengals receivers coach Steve Mooshagian. "He's quick and can make things happen."

With Warrick now rotating punt returns with the 5-8, 160-pound Yeast, the Bengals felt they could give Yeast a little more of a load. But Dugans is still the starting split end and Yeast remains in the slot when the Bengals go with three receivers.

Keaton, a fourth-round pick out of James Madison, could be called on to return some kickoffs. He probably won't play on third-down situations, but he could get some carries spelling running backs Corey Dillon and Brandon Bennett.

The Bengals like the 215-pound Keaton's explosiveness and outside speed and think he might be a good change-of-pace for the bigger Dillon and Bennett.

The club deactivated Nick Williams to make room for Keaton, leaving Clif Groce as its only active fullback.

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