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More apologies to Lance and The King

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on October 27, 2010 – 7:02 am

A request for an I Think I Believe is granted. Naturally, with apologies to Cincinnati Sports Talkmaster Lance McAlister and Sports Illustrated titan Peter King.

I Think I Believe if you had told me 27 days ago that in  the first three games of October, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer would have seven touchdown passes and three interceptions for 992 yards in leading the Bengals to 73 points, I would have told you they must be 5-1.

I Think I Believe I would have lost Lance’s I Believe T-shirt right off my back because there is no way the defense lets Cleveland’s Peyton Hillis get 102 yards, or Tampa Bay score 10 points in the final 1:26, or Atlanta to have four touchdown drives of at least 74 yards. No way.

I Think I Believe the most stunning thing about the defense giving up 39 points to the Falcons is the lack of tackling from the linebackers. Middle linebacker Dhani Jones is the brains of the outfit and Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers bring the athletic lumber, but there was nothing going on there Sunday from three guys that are usually pretty solid. I Think I Believe they have to be thinking about putting Maualuga in the middle, but how do you sit the captain and signal-caller of your unit in Jones?

I Think I Believe the most stunning defensive stat of the season is six sacks in six games despite the presence of two very talented kids in Michael Johnson at right end and Geno Atkins at tackle. You’d think one of them would make more than one play like the sack they shared against Baltimore. Maybe that’s it. They’re young. But no scout is going to sit there and tell you they can’t play.

I Think I Believe the Bengals do have a little bit of karma going into Sunday’s Paul Brown Stadium game against Miami on the last day of October. The Bengals have never had a winless month when Palmer has started all the games. They went 0-for September and October in 2008 when he missed games in each month.

After one game, I Think I Believe I am winning my bet with Mo Egger, the versatile voice of ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati. He owes me a coffee at my next Bengals roundtable if Palmer isn’t the slumping bust he has been talking about. Palmer showed in Atlanta he can do all the things he did in 2005 and 2006.

I Think I Believe that rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley is in the top four draft picks of the Marvin Lewis era, right there with Palmer, Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph.

I Think I Believe that Bengals great Ken Anderson is going to go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but it is going to be as a senior candidate in the next five years and not this year in his final year of eligibility on the regular ballot. The Cincinnati selector to the Hall, The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Joe Reedy, has to have his ballot in this Friday as the 44 voters whittle the list from 113 to 25. Then the vote from 25 to the final 15 should be announced the first week of the New Year.

Anderson is on the big list and Reedy says he has an outside shot at making the final 25. It is a struggle, though. You’ve got the 10 guys of last year’s final 15 that didn’t make it, plus four first-year guys that look like they’re going to make it: Deion Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis. So that’s already 14.

Reedy is doing some lobbying and here are my three favorite Anderson arguments I’ve been pushing since 1991:

» He’s the only eligible quarterback with more than three NFL passing titles (four) who isn’t in.

» He’s the only man to win back-to-back passing titles in different decades (1974-75, 1981-82). Peyton Manning may do it, but he hasn’t done it yet. It shows he was at the top in two different eras of offense: Smash-mouth and wide open.

» He was no dinker and dunker. He has the same career yards per attempt (7.3) as 2005 inductee Dan Marino.

Good luck, Joe. You’ve got reason and sanity on your side.


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Another look

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on October 25, 2010 – 2:50 pm

A few murmurings from Sunday’s 39-32 loss before the media meets with head coach Marvin Lewis Monday afternoon:

» Every time the Bengals get clobbered on defense, it always seems like the offense is max protecting instead of spreading the field, giving the quarterback easy three-to-five step drops with receivers over the middle, or rolling him out, and pounding the ball often enough that play-action works. Even if they have just one guy in the route (see Roddy White’s 43-yard TD bomb), he’s open. It just doesn’t seem very complicated. It always looks like the Bengals ask an awful lot out of quarterback Carson Palmer.

» NEW LOOK: How are the Palmer haters out there? I thought he carried them on his back most of the day and after repeat views of the replay of that late long ball to Terrell Owens that would have tied it and Palmer says he underthrew, I’m not too sure. I’ve got to rethink it. Palmer makes a great read on Owens’ double move and lofts it up nice. Some think Owens should have been able to control his body to a) stop, catch and turn inside the 5 and b) not step out of bounds.

Tough call. But this I do know:

How can y0u not be impressed by Palmer? To conduct a no-huddle in the most hostile of conditions, have so much on his plate when it comes to reading and being asked to make the tough throws, and to watch him put up three  touchdown drives in the second half and throw for 412 yards on 72 percent passing, that’s a hell of a day in the National Football League for a quarterback. And there are national pundits saying they should cut him? There should be some heavy edits there.

And not only that, he stands up to take the blame for missing on the biggest play of the game besides running back Cedric Benson’s fumble. And that could be debated. I know I said he failed because they lost, but on second thought, he made it as close as it was.

One thing you can’t debate: They’re lucky to have him on the field and in the locker room.

» Am I nuts? I thought the guys that kept the thing together and prevented the Bengals from getting blown out something like 45-10 were not only Palmer, but Owens, Benson and cornerback Adam Jones. The bigger the hole, the harder those guys played and I think their competitive spirit spread. Benson was crawling, diving and banging down 17-3. Owens came out in the second half down 24-3 and took the game over. Asked the kid he blocked into Marietta on Jordan Shipley’s TD. Jones got beat deep, but kept bouncing back, cheerleading on the sidelines, popping a kick return, and making that strip-and-score that should have turned around the season.

The one downer was Benson’s unforced fumble that led to the winning TD. He said it himself. Inexcusable. He’s doing a slow burn putting that one on top of the one in Cleveland three weeks ago. Look for some intense runs early against the Dolphins this Sunday.

» Most disappointing part of the day? For the third straight game there was absolutely no resistance from the defense when they needed it most. Early and late.


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Stat check: Owens on pace for Bengals’ first 1,500-yard season

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on October 19, 2010 – 3:59 pm

On pace to become the Bengals’ first 1,500-yard receiver, Terrell Owens is the fifth-leading receiver in the NFL when it comes to getting targeted for a pass with 61 targets, according to CBSSports.com.  The Bengals play the league’s most targeted man this Sunday in the person of Falcons wide receiver Roddy White with 69.

Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who leads the league in catches with 45, has been thrown to 65 times, and Denver wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, the NFL leader in receiving yards with 663, is third with 64. Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who, like Owens, has played in just five games instead of six, is fourth but has fewer yards and touchdowns than Owens.

With 31 catches for 476 yards and a 15.4 average and two touchdowns, Owens is 10th in the NFL in yards. Only Lloyd has more yards per catch than Owens in the top five targets with 19.5.

The last time Owens felt he was being slighted, he went off for 222 yards against Cleveland two weeks ago in the second best game ever by a Bengals wide receiver in an effort he felt showed “general managers and scouts” that he has plenty left at age 36.

It may be time for another big one. In this week’s Sports Illustrated, 239 NFL players chose Owens as the league’s most overrated player with 14 percent of the vote. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (7%); Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (5%), Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (5%) and Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning (4%) round out the top five.

Tough crowd.

Owens is on pace for 1,523 yards, which would break wide receiver Chad Ochocinco’s club record of 1,440 set in 2007. And his average of 15.4 would be the highest since Chris Henry had 16.3 and The Ocho had 15.5 back in ’07.

The NFL’s only active receivers with at least 1,000 catches are on display Sunday in Atlanta. Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez has 1,026 catches, just 11 behind Owens.


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Trend says Bengals bounce back

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on October 18, 2010 – 8:59 am

Take the five toughest losses in the Marvin Lewis era and signs are that the Bengals are going to come out well Sunday in Atlanta. If they have been anything under Lewis, they have been resilient when you least expect and isn’t that about where they are now?

Look what the Bengals did after last year’s opener. They had to go on the road to an NFC playoff contender with one of the league’s best quarterbacks, where no one gave them a shot, and with the help of two Quan Cosby punt returns and a reshuffled Packers offensive line they beat Green Bay. They need the same kind of all-around effort in Atlanta against Matt Ryan this Sunday:

1. Dec. 24, 2006: Denver 24, Bengals 23: With a win, the Bengals would have locked up a playoff berth for the second straight season. And they pushed the Broncos all over the place on the road. They should have won, 42-17. T.J. Houshmandzadeh dropped a TD pass. Chad Ochocinco illegally moved just before Chris Henry’s 75-yard TD catch. Rudi Johnson fumbled on the edge of the red zone.

Still, still, Palmer marched them one final time and got the tying TD in the last minute. But Brad St. Louis’ PAT snap unbelievably went awry. And if you saw head coach Marvin Lewis’ sweaty stare at the locker-room floor moments later, you would agree it is the worst loss in the last eight years.

The Bengals didn’t bounce back great at home the next week in the ’06 finale against the 7-8 Steelers, but they played well enough to win to get into the playoffs. Except for the small detail that Shayne Graham’s winning 39-yard field goal with eight seconds left went wide.

It was too much to take in seven days. The Steelers scored a TD shortly into OT.

2. Sept. 13, 2009: Denver 12, Bengals 7: You could make an argument the ’09 opener at Paul Brown Stadium is the worst. But they had 15 games to erase it. And, there was the sense they didn’t foul it up but fate did.

After Palmer led them down the field on a last-ditch 91-yard effort to save a miserable offensive day, they took the lead on Cedric Benson’s one-yard TD run with 38 seconds left. With 11 seconds left, Denver quarterback Kyle Orton unleashed the longest winning pass from scrimmage in the last minute of an NFL game when cornerback Leon Hall’s tip ended up in Brandon Stokley’s 87-yard TD catch with 11 seconds left.

But the next week may have been the biggest win in the Lewis era in that 31-24 game in Green Bay that got them to 1-1 for a home game against the Steelers.

3. Oct. 10, 2010: Tampa Bay 24, Bengals 21: The Bengals had the ball and the 21-14 lead with 2:28 left in the game facing a third-and-13 from their own 38. It looked like they were back on track after a bad loss in Cleveland. Palmer’s one-yard TD flip to Jermaine Gresham had given him his 12th fourth-quarter comeback win, they were back up over .500 at 3-2 heading into the bye week before a tough game in Atlanta, and pffttt….

All gone.

The Bengals tried to get the first down and Palmer threw a pick to set up Tampa’s tying TD with 1:26 left. Palmer got them rolling for a winning drive, but his pass to Chad Ochocinco with 25 seconds left that would have put the Bengals in field-goal range was dropped for a pick that led to the winning field goal.

Now they are 2-3, two games back in the AFC North, and headed indoors.

4. Oct. 15, 2006: Tampa Bay 14, Bengals 13: The Bengals were coming off their bye week at 3-1 and had two weeks to recover from their rocky first loss to New England. They look to go to 4-1 for the second straight season when defensive end Justin Smith sacked Tampa Bay quarterback Bruce Gradkowski back at the Bengals 40 in the last minute with a 13-7 lead. But “W” is suddenly turned into “L” when Smith is called for roughing the passer on what looked to be a simple tackle. Gradkowski ends up throwing a TD pass in the final 25 seconds and the Bengals go to 3-2.

And they had a lot more going on than that. Middle linebacker Odell Thurman had recently been suspended for the year for a DUI and the Bengals were going through a brutal stretch off-the-field with legal problems. The next game at PBS was viewed as make or break.

But Lewis kept their heads in it with a 17-14 win over Carolina in a wild fourth quarter. Palmer went deep to The Ocho on fourth-and-one in the winning TD drive and safety Kevin Kaesviharn picked off Jake Delhomme in the end zone to end it.

5. Nov. 12, 2006: San Diego 49, Bengals 41: The team with what people were saying had the most talented roster in the NFL came to PBS and proceeded to get blown out at the half with the Bengals taking a 28-7 lead as Chad Ochocinco closed in on a team-record 260 receiving yards. They would break a two-game losing streak and go to 5-4 before heading to a tough road game in New Orleans and pffft…

All gone.

This is what happens when you can’t run the ball. The Bengals were barely able to move the ball in the second half while Philip Rivers and Co., rolled it up at will and dumped them to 4-5 in extending their losing skein to three.

But with everyone predicting the end of Bengaldom as we knew it, Lewis summoned them for a great effort against the Saints indoors the next week. They survived 510 passing yards from one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks in Drew Brees and allowed them just one touchdown in a 31-16 win keynoted by Ocho’s 190 yards that gave him an NFL record in consecutive games.

Just some footnotes after looking at the list. It always seems like Palmer is leading them down the field in the most desperate of times, and more often than not he seems to produce. Plus, it reminds you how devastating and frustrating 2006 was. It makes you wonder how different the last four seasons would have been if they managed to win one of those games and go to the playoffs back-to-back.

And, doesn’t it look like the Tampa-Atlanta scenario bears some resemblance to the San Diego-New Orleans script? An indoor game against one of the NFC’s best young quarterbacks?


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Steeler formula

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on October 18, 2010 – 7:30 am

Big Ben is back, but don’t let his return obscure what it really means.

Run the ball, play defense, and you can do anything you want in the NFL. Forget Carson Palmer. They are the only reasons the 4-1 Steelers are looking like they’re going to run away and hide in the AFC North.

How was the Steelers’ 28-10 win over the Browns on Sunday different than the Bengals’ 23-20 loss in Cleveland two weeks ago? Other than the Browns were on the road and the Steelers faced a better but more inexperienced quarterback?

Roethlisberger threw for three touchdowns and 257 yards. Palmer threw for two touchdowns and 371 yards. Roethlisberger threw a 50-yarder to Mike Wallace and a 36-yarder to tight end Heath Miller. Palmer threw a 78-yarder Terrell Owens and a 42-yarder to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. Roethlisberger completed 59.3 percent of his passes. Palmer completed 69.4 percent of his passes.

But in between, Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall smashed it 27 times while the Bengals’ Cedric Benson got 15 shots. Mendenhall only got 84 yards while Benson had 60 in his, which proves the theorem even if you can’t run it, keep running it.

Plus, the Steelers allowed Browns running back Peyton Hillis just 3.4 yards per carry on 12 carries. The Bengals had the same kind of numbers and gave him just 3.7. But he had those 27 carries against them and was able to deliver the coup de grace with a 24-yard run that took the clock for good. The biggest run Hills could manage against Pittsburgh was 14 yards.

The Steelers keep coming up with stops. The Bengals play good but inconsistent defense and are struggling with breakdowns at key moments.  At the end of the half in Cleveland for a late field goal, for one, along with Hills’ big run. The same thing happened the next week against Tampa Bay at the end of the game after they played so well much of the afternoon.

Palmer’s numbers have sparked the wrong debate. There are those that want to argue that his skills have diminished even though just two weeks ago they were clearly on display and last week things collapsed around him just 2:28 away from another one of his fourth-quarter comebacks.  The real debate seems to be their move away from the Steelers formula that worked for them so well last year and has brought Pittsburgh through the Big Ben crisis into first place.


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Tough day for Cincy kids

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on October 11, 2010 – 11:00 am

One day you’re a kid living and dying with every one of Luis Tiant’s 163 head snaps, glove gyrations, soft serves, and mustachioed missiles in Game Four on The River as he willed the Red Sox back into the ’75 World Series against the big, bad Red Machine.

Then the next thing you know, your kid is pulling a triple double.

A 10-hour drive to watch the Buckeyes on Saturday in Columbus. Then a 1 p.m. Sunday kickoff to grind through the latest Bengals soap opera. A 5 p.m. stopover amid the red-and-orange sherbet swirl of Fountain Square to eat chili with his sister and take it all in before the speed walk to fantasyland and Great American Ball Park’s first playoff game.

The kid who once looked like Don Zimmer as a baby when he wore a tiny Red Sox hat now has his first job in the city were Zimmer fled the Bostonians who called him “gerbil.” And as you drive him to the airport in the pitch black of an October morning so he can get back to The Apple in time for work, it finally hits you after 20 years.

You may be from New England, but your kids are Cincinnati. And that means Three-Ways and crackers stream through their veins and a box of Chad Ochocincos is on top of her refrigerator in her college apartment and even the non-sports kid looks up from her theater notes to study Joey Votto’s MVP stage presence in the box.

And the kid who once looked like Don Zimmer but now worships at the altar of Mike Zimmer folds the front page of The Cincinnati Enquirer and sticks it in his bag.

“Got to hang it on the wall,” he says.

One day you’ve got posters of Yaz and Havlicek, and Orr on your wall and the next day you walk into a room hanging with Jeff Blake, Barry Larkin, Deion Sanders. This is a kid who played games of 1994 Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball before every college exam.

This is the kid you took to a Larkin autograph signing around that MVP 30-30 season. After a half-hour wait the kid and the dad were up front and Larkin and the dad started to talk since he was only a few years removed from covering the Reds.

“You should have just come up sooner. You didn’t have to wait,” he said.

“If I waited for Yaz for an hour after ‘67,” you said, “he can wait for you.”  

“Old school,” the kid always says now. “1995. I love the old AFC Central with the Oilers and Jacksonville. Now that was a division.”

He gets home at 12:30 a.m. the voice ripped raw by the arms of Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman and Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels. The plane is in five hours but sleep is as elusive as Mike Williams. He pulls out a box of Sizzling Wok from the fridge, attacks it with a fork, and still can’t get a handle on the day. He is wearing a Mr. Reds T-shirt after changing from his Bengals ’08 training camp “Play Fast” T-shirt.

“I yelled on every third down on defense and every 0-2 count,” he says. “The only time I yelled when we had the ball was when Carson had us at the 1 going in. Nobody cared then. We were all standing.”

He shakes his head. The boos Palmer got when he hit his 20,000th career passing yard. This is where you know he grew up in Cincinnati. Polite. Mannerly. In Boston, he would have joined in proudly, like the guy sitting behind me 40 years ago at Fenway who yelled sing-song, “Hey Yaz, your pants are dirty,” after he slid into third.

“How can they boo him?” he asks. “Don’t they realize what he’s meant to this franchise? Don’t they remember Klingler? I mean, I know he hasn’t played great this year, but look at the drops. Look at the pressure. I hope it wasn’t a majority. I mean, I clapped. There were a lot of people clapping.”

His only team that won were the beloved Bucks in one of those nolo contenderes.

“I love college football,” he says. “It’s still so unfair. It’s nice to go to a game and know your team is going to win. You just don’t know by how much.”

But there was that 21-14 lead gone in a blink and the mounting frustration of two-out base runners.

“And we didn’t run Ced,” he says.

Fountain Square, he says, was unbelievable.

“Reds fans, Bengals fans. Everybody in orange and red,” he says. “We had some chili and they had the Dallas game up on the screen. Awesome.”

He is smiling, thinking about Benson nearly walking in for the two-point conversion that gave the Bengals the 21-14 lead with 12:12 until the Reds game.

“You know what I was thinking?” he asks. “I’m thinking, ‘This must be what it is like for Steelers fans every week. We’re just going to run the clock out. It’s fun not having to be desperately throwing down the field to tie it or win it.’ I was actually thinking that. We can just run it out.”

The Steelers are always a looming presence for him. When he went to his first game as a little man back in the days this was Pittsburgh’s ninth home game, he was dressed head to toe Bengals on a cold day. Right down to his gloves. An adult, yes, a grown man, you are told, a Steelers fan, mocked him throughout the first half until he went to the Pro Shop at halftime, came back with Bengals gloves, and set a match to them while the kid watched.

“I love the way Ced runs,” he says, staring into the Sizzling Wok carton.

The plane is getting close. Great day. Tough day. Save the ticket stubs and the paper. Take a bye and hope someone can beat the Phils. Make plans to watch the Falcons game at the bar in The Apple where the Bengals are on every screen and Cincinnati chili is on the menu.

“I still think,” he says, “we can go 5-1 in the division. And get a couple of more somewhere.”

Then you are alone, driving through the pitch blackness of an October morning on The River, much like the one El Tiante tamed the Reds with his soul as much as his stuff.

You wonder where all the time went.

And you hope you don’t end up with a grandkid that looks like Don Zimmer but wears Yankees and Jets hats.

You are where you grew up.


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What they’ll buzz about

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on October 4, 2010 – 11:36 am

Here’s a guess on what will be the handful of sound bites buzzing around Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against Tampa Bay after the Bengals whiffed their chance to move into a three-way tie for first place in the AFC North with their loss to winless Cleveland.

» The only good thing that came out of Sunday is that people will get off quarterback Carson Palmer’s back for at least a week. He clearly showed he’s still got gamebreaking skills and that he and T.O. and The Ocho and Gresham can make some beautiful music together. He threw a couple of long ones and he fired some sideline-lasers.  His only questionable play seemed to come in that ugly red-zone sequence late in the third quarter. There was a sack and a checkdown pass with no shot into the end zone.  But then, he’s won a lot North games taking what they give him.

What Palmer showed Sunday is that he’s obviously still able to take over a game.

» Cornerback Leon Hall quietly keeps doing his thing. He’s got an interception in each of the last three games, giving him 17 for his career. It shows you how much the game has changed. That puts him in a tie for sixth on the all-time Bengals list in 52 games. He’s tied with safety Tommy Casanova’s 17 in 71 games from 1972-77. 

» Is it my imagination, or is running back Cedric Benson Palmer’s best pass protector in more ways than one?

Forget the way Benson picked up three blitzes in the touchdown drive that cut the lead to 23-20 Sunday. He simply manned up and didn’t let anyone touch Palmer with an extremely gutty effort.

And his numbers also suggest he keeps people off Palmer and his offense. The Bengals are 9-0 when Benson carries it at least 25 times and 12-1-1 when he gets it at least 21.

But it’s more than the numbers and more than blitz pickups. It’s the feel, the pace, the energy, the running formations that keeps defenses honest. They can’t tee it up and go after an offensive line that clearly has trouble protecting. That’s why they ran it first last year and they may have to head that way again this year if they want to keep Palmer healthy.

The bid for balance is precarious. The passing game looked  good as it has looked in years. But Benson’s 15 carries made them almost look more like the sub-.500  finesse team that struggled in 2007 than the smashmouth running team that won the division in 2009. It is hard to see them passing on all five situations of third-and-three or less last year. But they did in Cleveland, and converted two.

You had to love the way the pass game worked Sunday, though. But the sacks make you wonder if they still have to protect their line with some more Benson.

» The improved pass rush just isn’t there. Sunday’s one sack came on WILL linebacker Keith Rivers’ blitz. They need to get something from their pass-rushing ends. Seneca Wallace’s ability to extend plays out of the pocket didn’t happen last year against this defense, never mind all the crucial rush yardage. Three sacks in four games are going to be fodder for comment this week.

» With rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley spread out unconscious on the field Sunday, it looked like what rookie cornerback Brandon Ghee went through in the Sept. 2 preseason finale at Indianapolis. And he didn’t return to practice for two weeks. So don’t look for Shipley this week. But the Oct. 17 bye comes at a good time for him. He could be back for the game in Atlanta in three weeks.

» You have to feel that all the Redsmania is spreading and is going to help the Bengals extend their sellout streak to 55 and make Sunday quite a festive day on the riverfront.


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Pregame sprints

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on October 3, 2010 – 9:17 am

 

CLEVELAND –  A few pregame sprints before Sunday’s 1 p.m. game here against the Browns on Cincinnati’s Channel 12:

» This is why it is not entirely a coincidence that the Bengals are 16-10-1 since they worked out safety Chris Crocker the week they fell to 0-8 during the 2008 season.

Crocker has never been afraid to tell his teammates what he thinks is what. Whether at 0-8 or 7-2, which is what the Bengals were going into Oakland last year and lost a ridiculous 20-17 game they had no business losing. He says he’s made sure he and his mates have talked about that this week.

“We don’t want to do like when we went down to Oakland,” Crocker said before Friday’s practice. “I think we’re a better team. I’m not going to say bad things about them. But I think we’re a better team. We need to go up there and take care of business. We talked about how sick the feeling was when we lose to a team where you just feel like we’re better.  It’s the NFL. Any team can win any game. But we feel like we’re matched up on the positive side. We feel like we’re a good team and we should win the game.”

Hasn’t it always been those games that cause the most angst in Bengaldom? Most of the time, they come out ready against the teams with the good records, although this year’s opener in New England was a stark exception. Usually when they lay a total egg, it is against a team that shouldn’t be in the game with them, right?

There was Oakland last year and while they struggled to beat the Browns, Lions and Chiefs late in the season and the Panthers this year, they won. They won because the defense and/or the running game or some intangible showed up. That was almost never the case.

Forget ’08, but look at ’07 when they lost games to the 2-3 Chiefs, 3-4 Bills, 4-5 Cardinals, and 3-10 49ers. Three of those were on the road. Or how about ’06 and the brutal loss to the 0-4 Bucs, also on the road? Beating the Bucs would have put them in the 2006 playoffs and winning three of those games against losing teams in ’07 would have put them at 10-6.

But with more guys like Crocker around those eggs don’t seem to be as scrambled as much.

“They’re going to play hard. We know that,” Crocker said. “They are going to come out and fight all the way. We’ve got to match their intensity.”

» Give Carson Palmer this, if you please. His record in AFC North games of 21-11. (9-3 vs. Baltimore, 8-2 vs. Cleveland, 4-6 vs. Pittsburgh).

Granted, the last couple has been ugly, haven’t they? The 26-20 win in Pittsburgh in September 2006 with four touchdown passes is a long time ago. The big stat there? Since he threw a Bengals-record six touchdown passes here against the Browns on Sept. 16, 2007, he’s thrown eight touchdown passes in the last 11 North games. Of course, they are also 9-2 in those games.

A lot of that simply has to do with the style of the division. Few quarterbacks ever have big-time stats against the Steelers and Ravens. Although, oddly, two of his three worst passer ratings in victories have come against Cleveland in December games at Paul Brown Stadium with 44.8 in 2007 and 53.5 in 2005.

(I made a mistake last Sunday when I wrote the 53.3 against Carolina was his worst rating in a victory. It was his second worst.)

But, ultimately, this is what QBs are supposed to do: Win.

In what other sport does one stat so inaccurately tell you what a player means to his team than how passer rating describes what a quarterback does? It gives you a sense, but not the entire picture. It’s not as telling as the stats for the other quarterback positions in sports.

Earned run average. Assists vs. turnovers. Goals against.

NFL wins don’t grow on trees in any era. Palmer is 44-40 in his 84 starts. In his first seven seasons as a starter for the Bengals, Boomer Esiason was 51-52. Time should never fade what Ken Anderson did for the Bengals. He was 55-37 in his first seven seasons on the way to a 91-81 career won-loss record. Thanks to his 4-1 victory tour in ’97, Esiason got over .500 to finish 62-61 in his 123 career starts in Cincinnati.

No question Palmer has to play better if this team is going anywhere. But don’t underestimate wins, either.

How about on the road in the division? 10-6.

» Kicker Mike Nugent’s first three games as a Bengal have been pretty remarkable. He’s eight-for-eight, the best opening streak of any Bengals kicker when it comes to field goals, and with two field goals of at least 50 yards he’s already in rarefied air. Doug Pelfrey had three seasons where he had two 50s and Jim Breech, the club’s all-time scorer, hit two of 50 in the same season once in 13 years.

But, like the majority of kickers, Breech and Pelfrey are remembered more for their clutch kicks than distance. Breech is 9-for-9 in OT and from 1994-96, Pelfrey’s six walkoff field goals were the final play of 18 Bengals victories.

Nugent is headed that way. Three of his field goals have come in the fourth quarter of tight wins.

By the way, the Bengals record for most 50-yarders in a season is Horst Muhlmann’s four in 1970. Shayne Graham had three in 2004.


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