PHOTO: Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis congratulates his players after they scored a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2004, in Cincinnati. Cincinnati won 26-3. Halfway through the season the Bengals are beginning to look more likethe team everyone expected. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
Starter Carson Palmer, who suffered a left knee sprain during the New England game Sunday, revealed late Wednesday that his chances of playing against the Bills are "bleak" and that he would be "shocked" to start.
Welcome back, Jon. Kitna played every offensive snap for the Bengals in 2003, leading them to just their second 8-8 record in the past 13 seasons. The other 11 seasons ended with losing records. He threw 26 touchdowns and just 15 interceptions, was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month in November and was the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year.
But Kitna lost his job in the offseason. Coach Marvin Lewis decided to promote Palmer, the first overall pick of the 2003 draft.
Kitna accepted the decision with grace and has done nothing to disrupt team chemistry. He told offensive teammates who supported him to throw their support to Palmer. All the while, Kitna kept himself ready, and he was 9-for-13 passing for 126 yards, one touchdown and one interceptions last week against the Patriots.
In the age of selfish athletes who speak of team unity but behave otherwise, Kitna walks the walk even better than he talks the talk.
"People have said they've been impressed with my character and integrity," Kitna said this week. "It's not me. It's Jesus Christ who lives in me. All I do is the best I can. There are certain things I can't control, so I'm not going to worry about them and fret about them and pitch a fit or anything like that. That's not for me to do. I'm to accept the role and things that I've been given and to do whatever my role is whole-heartedly.
"People want to say, 'Aw, it's a disappointment you didn't get the chance to start again this year.' I didn't have a chance to be in this league and this is Year 9, so how could anything be a disappointment then? I'm not going to allow people's expectations of me and what they think should be fair to affect what I am."
Kitna has embraced the defined role as Palmer's backup, teacher and mentor. The two have become close friends, Kitna calling Palmer his closest friend on the team. They play golf, pool and cards and compete fiercely.
What Kitna has not done is lobby behind Palmer's back to get the job back. He said this week he hopes, if he does indeed start against the Bills in Week 15, that Palmer is back for the Week 16 game against the Giants.
"I know Jon's excited. I am happy for him," Palmer said. "He is a competitor. He's getting the chance to play. I, and the rest of the team, are completely confident in him that he's going to go out and not really lose a step where this offense has left off. Even though we are playing the No. (3-ranked) defense in the league, he's going to go out and have a great day."
Palmer said the injury is to his medial collateral ligament and that surgery is not necessary if there is no further damage.
Palmer was one of the league's hottest quarterbacks. His passer rating in Games 8-13 was 96.9 with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His passer rating for Games 1-7 was 62.6 with five touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
"They're telling me (the MCL) not strong enough to protect it from me moving around and having to get around out of the pocket," Palmer said. "It's not strong enough to protect it from ripping or tearing and having to go through reconstructive knee surgery and missing the whole offseason.
"I'm just trying to get it healthy and strong enough to play so I can get a couple of more shots and finish the rest of the year."
The Bengals will play the Giants on Dec. 26 before traveling to Philadelphia for the finale Jan. 2.
They enter the Buffalo game with slim playoff hopes. At 6-7, though, the Bengals trail four teams, including Buffalo, in the chase for the last AFC wildcard spot.
SERIES HISTORY: 21st meeting -- The Buffalo Bills lead the Cincinnati Bengals 11-9. The Bengals have won both of the team's meetings in the playoffs. The Bengals lead 8-4 in home games, but the Bills will be making their first visit to Paul Brown Stadium. The last meeting was a 22-16 Bills victory in overtime last season in Buffalo.
- Four former Bengals coaches will return as members of the Buffalo staff:
Sam Wyche (quarterbacks), Tim Krumrie (defensive line), Jim McNally (offensive
line) and Frank Verducci (tight ends).
- The Bengals are 5-1 when leading after three quarters this season.
- For the second consecutive week, the Bengals will face another high-profile
former teammate. Last week: Running back Corey Dillon at New England. Sunday:
Bills linebacker Takeo Spikes.
The importance of the game, both the Bengals and Bills are still fighting for an AFC wild card berth, transcends the personal rivalry. But there is no denying Spikes' popularity leftover from his five years with the Bengals and how his celebrity - not to mention his level of play - has blossomed in Buffalo.
"The emotions are going to run wild, man," Spikes said of his homecoming. "It's where it all started. When I was young and greener than the grass, Cincinnati is where I started my career and being the player I am."
Spikes parted ways with the Bengals as an unrestricted free agent in March 2003. The Bengals used the transition tag on Spikes, which allowed the club to match any offer he would receive. The Bengals chose not to match the six-year, $32 million offer sheet he signed with the Bills.
- Right tackle Willie Anderson, a player known to have a compassionate heart
in proportion to his 340-pound frame, was announced this week as the Bengals'
nominee for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Each of the NFL's
32 teams nominates a play for the award, named for the former Chicago Bears
running back who died in 1999.
- The award is the only one presented by the league that recognizes off-the-field
community service as well as playing excellence. Anderson, a ninth-year player,
was voted to his first Pro Bowl in 2003 and is a likely repeat performer in
the league's annual all-star game.
"It's a responsibility we as athletes have to uphold and give back to the communities we live and work in," Anderson said. "It shows youngsters a game-plan to follow. Instead of just following athletes for their exploits on the field, we can show we can be a positive model in other ways."
- The Bengals have achieved a franchise first in the past three games. The
478 yards of total offense at New England on Sunday gave them 450-plus yards
in each of their last three games. The Bengals gained 504 yards against Cleveland
on Nov. 28, 453 yards at Baltimore on Dec. 5 and the 478 at New England in
a loss Sunday.
- The Bengals hired Marvin Lewis as coach Jan. 14, 2003. They will face their
two other outside candidates in the next two weeks.
- Bills first-year coach Mike Mularkey, whose team is 7-6, was the Steelers'
offensive coordinator at the time he was interviewed. Buffalo will play Sunday
at Paul Brown Stadium.
- Tom Coughlin will bring his New York Giants, now 5-8 and losers of the last
six in a row, on Dec. 26. Coughlin had been freshly fired as Jacksonville
coach at the end of the 2002 season.
- The Bengals committed three turnovers and had no takeaways against the Patriots. In 29 games under coach Marvin Lewis, the Bengals are 8-1 with a plus differential in turnovers, 4-2 when the differential is even and 2-12 when they have a minus differential.
BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- Consecutive sellouts for the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bills game this Sunday is the seventh of the season and seventh sellout. A sellout of the home final Dec. 26 against the Giants would give the Bengals their first home schedule sellout since 1992.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This thing has been running pretty good without me in there, so my thing is I don't want to go in and disrupt a whole bunch of things and try to put my personality on it. This is Carson's (Palmer's) football team. I just want to try to continue and be an extension of him and do the things that I'm strong at doing." -- Quarterback Jon Kitna, on his approach if he starts Sunday against the Bills for the injured Palmer.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
In addition to their quarterback, Carson Palmer, the Bengals might on Sunday be without the other offensive starter who touches the football on every play.
Center Rich Braham, who injured his knee Sunday at New England, was downgraded to doubtful for the upcoming game against Buffalo. Jerry Fontenot, who started Games 2-4 this season for the Bengals, would make his fourth start if Braham were unavailable.
Palmer said late Wednesday that his chances to start against the Bills were "bleak" because of a medial collateral ligament sprain in his left knee. Ninth-year quarterback Jon Kitna is expected to start.
Fontenot, a 16th-year pro, signed Sept. 16 as a free agent and started Sept. 19 against Miami. Coach Marvin Lewis recently said Fontenot did a solid job in such dire circumstances but should be even more effective after having had almost three months to learn the offensive scheme more thoroughly. Fontenot will face a challenge in helping against Buffalo's two large defensive tackles, Sam Adams and Pat Williams.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
- -- WR Chad Johnson is second in the NFL with 80 receptions and is trying
to become the first Bengal in franchise history to lead the league. The Saints'
Joe Horn leads with 81.
- -- RB Chris Perry dressed for the game Sunday for the fifth time this year.
The rookie did not play for the third time and has been inactive eight times.
"He has got to have a good week of practice. He has to have confidence in himself physically, and then gain confidence in everything we are doing in order to have an opportunity," coach Marvin Lewis said of Perry. "I was hopeful he would have a chance (Sunday), but it didn't happen that way with the flow of the game."
- -- WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh played in only two games because of a hamstring
injury last season, and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis referred to him as a "China
"I can't call him that anymore. He's tough as nails," Lewis said. "He's taken three of the cheapest shots I've seen in NFL this year have been leveled on this guy. He keeps getting up from them and going."
Houshmandzadeh took those hits in the Dallas, second Cleveland and New England games. In his past three games, Houshmandzadeh has 26 catches for 395 yards and three touchdowns.
- -- TE Matt Schobel will face his brother, Bills defensive end Aaron Schobel, on Sunday. Aaron leads the Bills with seven sacks. Matt has 16 receptions for 164 yards and three touchdowns and has been used as an H-back on passing downs. Matt's blocking has helped give quarterback Carson Palmer extra time in the pocket.
GAME PLAN: The Bengals have one of the NFL's hottest offenses, and it will face Buffalo's No. 3-ranked defense. The Bills held Cleveland to 17 total yards Sunday. Even with the likely quarterback change to Jon Kitna, the Bengals will attack the defense aggressively. The Bengals will run Rudi Johnson 20-25 times and mix in a downfield passing game to wide receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. On defense, the Bengals will have to stop red-hot tailback Willis McGahee, who has six 100-yard games in his eight NFL starts. The Bengals did a good job on New England's Corey Dillon last week (22 carries for 88 yards) but gave up too many big plays in the pass game to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Buffalo's Drew Bledsoe is not in Brady's class and is far less mobile. The Bengals will need to pressure him into turnovers.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bengals kickoff coverage team vs. Bills KR Terrence McGee, who has three returns for touchdowns this season and an NFL best 26.5-yard kickoff return average. The other deep man employed by special teams coach Bobby April on kickoffs is linebacker London Fletcher, who is McGee's devastating lead blocker. The Bengals can't give up field position in the kickoff return game.
C Jerry Fontenot vs. Bills DTs Sam Adams and Pat Williams. Adams played for Marvin Lewis when Lewis was Baltimore's defensive coordinator. The two tackles clog the middle of the line and are a reason for Buffalo's No. 4-ranking against the run (92.3 yards). The Bengals will need to have a balanced attack with Rudi Johnson getting his carries. Fontenot will be starting for the injured Rich Braham.
Clemons, who leads the team with 6.5 sacks, wore a leg brace in the locker room. He would be the most difficult Bengal to replace because he plays both end and tackle well. He moves inside on pass downs to make room for rookie end Robert Geathers, who has 3.5 sacks.
Rookie Keiwan Ratliff, a good tackler and solid cover corner, would make his fourth start in place of O'Neal.
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