CLEVELAND, OCT. 22 -- Boomer Esiason was a bust most of the night, but he was on target when it counted. And for the first time in more than a year, Ickey Woods got to do his shuffle.

Esiason, who completed only seven of 17 passes for 85 yards, failed in a bid to reach 20,000 yards for his career, but he hit Rodney Holman and Mike Barber with touchdown passes as the Cincinnati Bengals beat the rival Cleveland Browns, 34-13, tonight.

The Browns (2-5) fell three games back of the first-place Bengals (5-2) in the AFC Central Division, doing nothing to quell speculation that Cleveland Coach Bud Carson is in danger of losing his job.

Cleveland is off to its worst start since 1984, when Sam Rutigliano was fired at midseason -- the day after a loss to the Bengals. Carson is 0-3 against Cincinnati.

The officials had a tough first half, drawing the ire of fans, Bengals Coach Sam Wyche and Esiason.

The crew took away an apparent touchdown pass to Holman because the Bengals used an illegal formation by not having the required seven players on the line of scrimmage. The coach and quarterback argued, to no avail, and the Bengals settled for a field goal.

When the Browns got the ball later in the second quarter, the officials had to get together twice to straighten out misunderstandings.

On the first occasion, they had to decide whether a throw by Cleveland's Bernie Kosar constituted a incomplete forward pass or a lateral, which left the ball live. It was ruled a lateral, and since the whistle had blown, the play cost the Browns a seven-yard loss at the spot the ball settled.

The next problem arose when officials couldn't remember the down. Using replays and their notepads, they realized it was third down, and play continued. On that third-down play, Kosar completed a 23-yard pass to Kevin Mack to the Cincinnati 5, setting up Jerry Kauric's second field goal of the half.

Woods sealed the Cincinnati victory with a one-yard touchdown run with 2:32 remaining, then celebrated by doing dance he made famous two years ago. He ran five times for seven yards tonight in his first game since suffering a serious knee injury in the second game of 1989.

The Bengals rushed for 233 yards, more than doubling their season average of 97. James Brooks, bothered by a sore neck, darted 28 yards for a touchdown on his first carry in the second quarter. The Bengals often ran on what seemed like passing situations.

"Most of the runs they broke on us were in dime {passing} situations," Cleveland defensive end Al "Bubba" Baker. "That's guile and determination on their part."

Cincinnati's 28th-ranked defense intercepted Kosar twice, setting up a pair of short field goals by Jim Breech, and sacked Kosar four times.

Esiason marched the Bengals 80 yards on their opening drive, capping it with a 19-yard pass to Holman in the right corner of the end zone. He added a two-yard scoring pass to Barber with 12 minutes left in the game.

There was yet another replay session early in the third quarter, when the videotape negated a Cincinnati fumble.

"It's important for us to remember there's still more than half a season left," Kosar said. "We're not quitters."