The Bengals, in a statement released Thursday morning, said the team would have no further comment until after the game. Kickoff is set for 8:15 p.m. (ET) at Heinz Field.
According to FoxSports.com's Jay Glazer, the deactivation stems from Ocho Cinco being late for a team meeting Wednesday night and then being subordinate to both offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and head coach Marvin Lewis. According to Glazer's report Lewis eventually told Ocho Cinco to go home after a heated verbal exchange.
This will be the first game Ocho Cinco has missed since Nov. 18, 2001, against Tennessee when he was out of the lineup with a fractured left clavicle that forced him to miss four games. This will end a streak of 113 straight games played for Ocho Cinco. He has caught passes in 102 consecutive games and is the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions and yardage with 600 catches and 8,748 yards. His 53 touchdowns are tied with Isaac Curtis for second place in franchise history, 10 behind Carl Pickens.
The struggles that have befallen the Bengals as a team (1-8-1) have mirrored those for Ocho Cinco, a five-time Pro Bowl selection. He began it by his attempting to force the Bengals to either trade or release him in the offseason, a tactic that backfired on him as the team rejected inquiries from other teams, including a proposed trade from Washington that could have resulted in two first-round draft choices.
Ocho Cinco, who legally changed his surname from Johnson this year, did not attend the team’s voluntary offseason workout sessions and delayed undergoing ankle surgery until after a mandatory mini-camp in June. He was not ready to practice at the start of training camp because of his recovery from surgery, and then suffered a shoulder injury in the preseason that further limited his practice time with quarterback Carson Palmer and the rest of the offense.
He has caught 41 passes for 383 yards and four touchdowns this season. He has a streak of six consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, including a club-record 1,440 yards last season, but is currently on pace to finish with 613 yards.
The Cincinnati offense, once one of the most high-powered units in the NFL, is ranked last in the league in overall yards as well as passing. The Bengals are 30th in the league in running the ball and their average of 13.8 points per game is second-to-last in the NFL. An elbow injury to Palmer suffered in a Week 3 loss at the New York Giants has limited him to just four starts this season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick will make his seventh start of the season tonight and is coming off his best passing performance of the year in last Sunday’s 13-13 tie against Philadelphia. Fitzpatrick completed 29 of 44 passes against the Eagles for 226 yards and one touchdown. It was his first 200-yard passing game of the season.
The Bengals will be without three offensive linemen – starting left tackle Levi Jones, left guard Andrew Whitworth and top reserve Scott Kooistra – against Pittsburgh. Rookie Anthony Collins will make his first start in place of Jones, while Nate Livings, who was signed off of the practice squad this week, will start for Whitworth against a Pittsburgh team that is ranked No. 1 in the league in overall defense, pass defense and run defense, and is second in the league in sacks.
Ocho Cinco had eight catches for 52 yards against the Steelers last month when Pittsburgh won 38-10 at Paul Brown Stadium. The Steelers have historically been one of the tougher teams against him; since catching six passes for 117 yards and one touchdown in a 24-20 win at Heinz Field in 2003, Ocho Cinco has 46 catches for 594 yards and one touchdown in 10 games against Pittsburgh, including one playoff game. Ocho Cinco had 31 catches for 494 yards and one touchdown in his first six career games against the Steelers.
It might just be a coincidence but Dick LeBeau returned as Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator in 2004, the same time Ocho Cinco’s troubles against the Steelers began. LeBeau was the Bengals head coach for Ocho Cinco’s first two seasons before being replaced by Marvin Lewis in 2003.
The Bengals are 2-8 against the Steelers since Bill Cowher rehired him (LeBeau had previously worked under Cowher from 1992-96) and Mike Tomlin didn’t hesitate to keep LeBeau on his staff when Tomlin replaced Cowher in 2007.
“You’re talking about a man who’s been in this league 50 years and a man with head coaching experience,” said Tomlin this week on a conference call with Cincinnati media. “I think it would be prudent to lend an ear to his experience and his take on certain situations. I’m willing and do that often.”