Saturday, August 05, 2000

Bills 21, Bengals 20

Akili cool, confident in first outing

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Akili Smith throws under pressure.
(AP photos)
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        Six days after looking indecisive and inconsistent in an intrasquad scrimmage, Akili Smith was cool and confident in the Bengals' preseason opener Friday night in Buffalo.

        The second-year quarterback was 12-of-18 for 104 yards in two quarters against the Bills' first- and second-team defenses.

        Buffalo held on for a 21-20 victory when Doug Pelfrey's 29-yard field goal was blocked as time expired. A late Bills' fumble had given the Bengals a chance to win.

        As important as the passes he completed were the two balls Smith threw away when no receiver was open. He was not sacked after taking three sacks in last Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage and repeatedly holding on to the ball too long.

Smith scrambles.
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        “I can sleep a lot better,” Smith said. “It was unbelievable out there. I came off to the sidelines and told (assistant coach) Kenny (Anderson) I haven't felt this relaxed all camp. I don't know what it was. Maybe it was just being prepared.”

        In spite of Smith's impressive outing and 351 yards of total offense, the Bengals failed to win.

        Tackle Willie Anderson saw a different attitude after the game.

        “Guys came in here mad,” Anderson said in the locker room. “Guys were not, "Oh, this is the preseason. We'll be all right.' From the first team to the third-string, guys came in here mad, and that's a positive thing. Unfortunately, we're still learning how to put a team away.”

        In one half, Smith led the Bengals on scoring drives of 71 and 56 yards. Another long drive, 14 plays covering 45 yards, ended with the Bengals turning the ball over on downs at the Buffalo 3.

Brian Simmons chases Brad Johnson.
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        “We put 'em every which way but loose, but they won on the scoreboard,” coach Bruce Coslet said. “We'll take the positives out of, and, boy, we've got to learn from some of the boo-boos we made.”

        No.1 on Coslet's list of positives was Smith's play.

        “He threw the ball away in the red zone,” Coslet said of a first down play from the Buffalo 10-yard line in the first quarter. “We wouldn't have done that last year.”

        Even though the Bengals couldn't get into the end zone on the first drive, Smith's dumping the ball avoided a sack and led to a 26-yard Pelfrey field goal.

        On that drive, Smith was 5-of-7 for 41 yards. He hit Craig Yeast with a nine-yard play on third-and-8 from the Bengals' 23.

Brandon Bennett.
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        Smith was in command in the huddle as well.

        “He played a very smart game,” running back Brandon Bennett said. “You could see his progress from last year to now. He was like a seasoned veteran today. He was keeping everybody positive.”

        Anderson took notice of Smith's leadership.

        “I told him, "Man, the biggest thing you did was you direction,'” Anderson said. “We haven't had that kind of direction here at the quarterback position for a while. Akili came in and was talking. Guys were responding to him. If they didn't make a catch, he got on them. Guys would say, "I'll catch it next time,' and they did catch it next time. He was the general out there.”

Scott Covington fumbles.
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        Rookie Peter Warrick showed his play-making ability in the opening drive, catching a tipped pass off the hands of Bengals' receiver Damon Griffin. After the ball popped into the air, Warrick raced to grab it before it hit the artificial turf and turned it into a 24-yard reception. Warrick finished with two catches for 31 yards.

        Smith was upset that the Bengals came away with only a field goal on one of the drives and no points on another.

        “We've got to put six points on the board in the red zone,” he said of plays inside the 20-yard line. “We can't settle for three points.”

Steve Foley stops Antowain Smith.
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        Other positives:

        • The Bengals' first-team defense stuffed the Bills' starting offense on three straight drives after the opening scoring drive, forcing punts each time on only one series of downs.

        • The Bengals' young receivers played well. Yeast had five catches for 75 yards, and James Hundon had four for 74.


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