BY GEOFF HOBSON
They opened Paul Brown Stadium with planes, divas and Super Bowl heroes tonight. The Bengals supplied the fireworks with a 21 points in a little more than 10 minutes and held on for a 24-20 preseason victory over the Bears.
The Bengals offered a pleasing buffet for PBS' first crowd. They saw rookie receiver Peter Warrick's first NFL touchdown off a shake-and-bake reverse, Warrick college temmate Ron Dugans' first NFL touchdown catch, and quarterback Akili Smith's first two touchown passes of the season.
But it wasn't over until outside linebacker Steve Foley sacked quarterback Mark Hartsell with 1:50 left, punctuating a defensive effort that allowed only a field goal in the last 50 minutes and snapped the Bengals' skein of seven straight pre-season losses.
True to their vow, the Bengals went all out to win the stadium's first game, even though it only counts in history and means the Bengals are now 1-2.
After leading the Bengals back from a 14-0 deficit in the first half, Smith and his first team couldn't put the Bears away even though coach Bruce Coslet kept them in for all but the last series of the third quarter.
But a stand on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 led by linebackers Adrian Ross and Reinard Wilson stoned Chicago and preserved the Bengals' 24-17 lead after three quarters. On the Bears' first series of the half, Wilson jumped on a fumbled snap at the Chicago 7, but Smith couldn't find anyone in the end zone on second and third down. Doug Pelfrey, on what could be his last Bengals' field goal, kicked a 20-yarder for a 24-17 lead. After cooling off from his torrid first half, Smith finished 21 of 29 for 184 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and he took just one sack. Smith and Cade McNown renewed their college shooutout during a wild first half that featured Smith throwing his first two touchdowns of the season while the Bengals scored 21 straight points to take a 21-14 lead.
Warrick had six catches for 55 yards and running back Corey Dillon carried the ball seven times for 16 yards in his season debut.
How passionate were the Bengals about this one? Facing a 4rth-and-1 from the Bears 16 in the middle of the second quarter, Coslet opted to go for it with a play-action pass into the end zone to 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.