Updated: 4:20 p.m.
Head coach Marvin Lewis has had five days to digest Sunday's Spike Strike loss to the Broncos and he concluded Friday that the 49-41 loss to San Diego in 2006 "was a much harder loss."
In that one the Bengals blew a 28-7 halftime lead to the consensus most talented team in the league and ended up losing the lead so quickly that the Chargers expanded a one-point edge with 2:29 left.
"We controlled the game most of the game and found a way to screw things up toward the end," Lewis said after Friday's practice. "You don't finish that game off, to me that's a little bit of a lingering effect . Because a lot of people think they did things right. In this case we all know there were some good plays and there were some bad plays and there needs to be a lot of improvement across the board. When you're in that kind of game, 7-6 game, there's something one way or the other we've got to do better. The finish on the defensive side of the ball, you don't like that, and you don't like the start of it on the offensive side of the ball.
"To me, the loss of a close game is the loss of a close game. You make your karma, you make your plays."
MATHIS UP: On Friday morning the Bengals worked out on the Paul Brown Stadium Field without left guard Nate Livings (knee), cornerback David Jones (foot) and right tackle Andre Smith (foot). All are listed out for Sunday. No. 3 quarterback Jordan Palmer returned Friday from an illness and is listed as probable, as are running back Brian Leonard (chest) and offensive lineman Scott Kooistra (knee). All three had a full practice Friday. See the Bengals Injury Report here.
For the Packers, cornerback Will Blackmon, wide receiver Greg Jennings and kicker Mason Crosby are all listed as probable. Guard Daryn Colledge and nose tackle B.J. Raji are questionable while third running back Brandon Jackson is out.
Evan Mathis makes his 16th NFL start Sunday in place of Livings and his first since he started 15 games at right guard for the Panthers in 2006. On a day the Bengals go against Packers assistant offensive line coach Jerry Fontenot, it's fitting that Mathis said Friday that he doesn't want to make the excuse that he doesn't have time to be in sync with the rest of the line.
If you answered the trivia question who was Carson Palmer's center in his first NFL win as a starter, with Fontenot, you got it. Then you probably also know that Fontenot had something like a practice and a half to prepare for a game with his new team. Rich Braham got hurt in the '04 opener and Fontenot had trouble getting out of New Orleans because of weather the next week. But he helped out in a 16-13 win the next week over the Dolphins in a Sunday night game.
"You hear the cliche, 'The offensive line needs time to gel.' You hear that all the time," said Mathis, a third-round pick of Carolina in '05. "But when it comes down to it, all these guys are professionals. When you're playing next to somebody, the only thing you really need to gel with are the timg of some double teams and communication. Honestly, with guys we have like Whit (left tackle Andrew Whitworth) and Kyle (center Cook), they know the scheme very well. It's not hard to get in there and get acclimated quickly."
Mathis said he had no problem getting warmed up when Livings went out late in the second quarter against Denver, but he does feel more comfortable this week because he's taken all the reps between Whitworth and Cook.
"In this league the players and coaches are all professionals and they're just making excuses when people say they need a lot of time to adjust to something," Mathis said. "We're never going to make that excuse."
Mathis played only one game for the Panthers in 2007, but he traveled to Green Bay that season and said he's got a feel for the atmposhere. Cook, off his first NFL start, looked over at Mathis and figured, "He's played more games than me."
Lewis said the Bengals like Mathis's smarts and his ability to play all five spots.
"We really like what he's been doing," Lewis said. "He had a good start to his career. It kind of fell off, but we're glad to have him. He's a big, strong man."
WEATHER CHECK: It won't exactly be The Ice Bowl when the Bengals and Packers kick off Sunday at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
The National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio is calling for a high temperature of 71 degrees under mostly sunny skies with a light wind from the south at 5-10 miles per hour.
TUBE STREAK: Hot off the desk of Bengals public relations directors Jack Brennan and P.J. Combs. Going back to 2004, in each of the last 69 TV ratings weeks that have included a Bengals regular-season or postseason game, the Bengals have been the top-rated show among all programming in the Cincinnati market.
The streak began Dec. 5, 2004, when a wild Bengals win at Baltimore (Carson Palmer engineered 24 fourth-quarter points) outpolled all other programs for the week. It hit 69 when the 2009 season opener against Denver was an easy weekly winner.
The rating number indicates the percentage of market households tuned to the game — including those not watching TV at the time. The highest Bengals rating during the streak has been 45.5 for the Pittsburgh playoff game on Jan. 8, 2006.
But then, Cincinnati loves its football. Just look at the week of Sept. 7-13. The Bengals-Broncos game Sept. 13 drew a 27.7 rating in Cincinnati, tops for the week by a wide margin. The second-highest rated show was the Thursday night NFL season opener, Tennessee at Pittsburgh, with a 16.5 rating. The Sunday night national broadcast, Chicago at Green Bay, came in third in Cincinnati at 13.3.
College football also had a show that topped all other programming for the week. The Ohio State-USC slugfest in Columbus Sept. 12 was fourth at 12.0.
The Bengals game had nearly three times the rating of the top-rated non-sports program in Cincinnati. That was “Two and a Half Men,” which ranked fifth overall for the week at 10.4.