It seems cold to write about football and the Cincinnati Bengals, what with just one day passing since the death of wide receiver
I talked with
On Sunday, the Bengals will play with heavy hearts in San Diego. After a moment of silence at Qualcomm Stadium, 9-4 Cincinnati will take on the 10-3 Chargers in a last-gasp try for the second seed in the AFC playoffs.
"It's been somber, obviously,'' offensive coordinator
Bratkowski's message was much the same as head coach
Sometimes teams get inspired with events like this. Sometimes they get deflated. "You can go either way,'' Houshmandzadeh said. "But they have a perfect guy to lead them in a situation like this. Marvin's great. He's a good person to have in a position of power because the guys respect him and he'll always do the right thing.''
The odds are against Cincinnati; the Chargers are simply a better team, on an eight-game winning streak with surprising defensive depth surfacing to supplement a scary-good, nearly
The Bengals have changed, in two ways. They're a running team now, not a team that relies on
It's easy to understand why the Bengals have changed. They couldn't beat 'em, so they joined 'em. With Pittsburgh and Baltimore both strong on defense with solid run games, Lewis decided to do a U-turn away from an over-reliance on Palmer. They've won four games this year when Palmer was held under 190 yards passing; last week, at Minnesota, Palmer threw for an alarmingly low 94 yards.
That prompted me to call Palmer this week and ask: "Is there anything wrong with your arm?''
"Not at all,'' Palmer said from the Bengals' locker room Wednesday. "My elbow's great. It's 100 percent. Especially for this being Week 15, I'm fine.''
Palmer said he's onboard with what the Bengals are doing. "Our mindset since OTAs was to be a different team,'' he said. "We knew our defense would be good, and if we could control field position and control the clock, we'd have a really good chance to be a good team. We used to drop back 35, 40 times a game and lose. I'm fine with throwing 25 times a game, because we're winning.''
Bratkowski told me the only time Palmer's support wavers is when the Bengals take the pedal off the metal early in the second half and allow foes to creep back in games -- or when they're losing. "This was the model we thought gave us the best chance to win,'' said Bratkowski. "What's won our division in recent years? A great defense and a ball-control offense. We made the commitment that we'd be a physical running team, and that became a great friend of the defense.''
The Bengals, even if they succumb to reality and their emotions and lose Sunday, are still on course for the AFC North title and either the third or fourth seed in the AFC playoffs. That could bring the Broncos or Ravens -- or Jets or Dolphins -- to Cincinnati for a wild-card game in January. In a season of tragedy off the field, beating back the two best teams in the AFC in 2008 in their own division is a major triumph in itself.
I had Peyton Manning as the 25th-best player in history in
Manning is 33. He was magnificent in the 35-31 win at Jacksonville, going 13 of 13 in the first half, and perfect until a catchable ball bounced off
It's a cliché to say every week that