11-3-04, 9:15 p.m.


Chad Johnson is on pace to catch 98 yards less than he did last season. But he says he'll end with more than those AFC-leading 1,355 yards that put him in the Pro Bowl.

"Easy," Johnson said before Wednesday's practice. "It's real early. My numbers are going to get better as we get better. And No. 9 is getting better every game, every play."

No. 9 is, of course, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. But it's No. 19 of the Cowboys, wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson that could end up talking more than cousin Chad when they meet Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. The last two times they met, Keyshawn coached up Chad during the game, but Bill Parcells wasn't Keyshawn's coach then.

"Tell Chad," said Parcells with a laugh Wednesday, "to stay on his own sideline."

Keyshawn and Chad have already talked once this week and Keyshawn has already issued the first scrap of trash talking.

"He said he was going to show me up," Chad said.

He has in the two games they've met. As a rookie, Chad had just two catches for 27yards while Keyshawn had seven catches for 85 yards in Tampa Bay's 16-13 overtime victory in Cincinnati in 2001. In the next season, also at PBS, Keyshawn had five catches for 56 yards while Chad got blanked for the last time in his career. Since Sept. 29, 2002, he has caught at least two passes in 35 straight games.

"This year we've only talked since the season started maybe five times," Keyshawn said. "We used to talk three times a week. Now that he's gotten better, he doesn't need me anymore."

But Chad expects to hear some coaching from Keyshawn Sunday. He can still remember him yelling about adjusting to the ball before he caught it.

"He said I need to add other elements," said Chad of their most recent discussion. "Not to just have everybody worried about being the deep threat. . .He talked about my blocking. I need to be a complete receiver. He says that's the difference between me and him. He's a complete receiver."

Chad says it's difficult to adopt elements of Keysahwn's game because they are so different. He calls Keyshawn "a chain-mover," a bigger (6-4 , 212 pounds compared to 6-1, 190 pounds), more physical guy who goes over the middle.

"That's not a part of my game," Chad said. "I'm going down the field."

But he does want to become the blocker that Keyshawn has become, even though he's got a ways to go.

"I don't know why I can't get the hang of it," Chad said. "Maybe I'm spending too much time worried about my route running."

Chad has more catches (36-30) and more yards (550-448) this season, but Keyshawn has more touchdowns (4-2).

"I'm having a better year regardless," Chad said. "My numbers are going to get higher and higher as we get better and Carson gets better.

"I still haven't had a big game yet," said Chad, who had a season-high 149 yards against Denver. "I'm not counting the Denver game. That was against single coverage. I'm talking about doing it in double coverage, like against Baltimore when I had 99. It should have been more."

Chad is convinced Palmer is getting better because of two plays they have improvised together at the line of scrimmage in each of the last two games. The first one came against Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, and the second one came against another cousin, Titans cornerback Samari Rolle.

Both came on huge 3rd-and-3 conversions, and produced big gains. The first one, a tipping, tumbling catch, went for 23 yards and set up the score that gave the Bengals a 10-point lead in the Denver victory. The second one went for 18 yards and gave the Bengals a first down at the Titans 9 with less than a minute left in last week's game they lost by a touchdown.

"Sometimes we use hand signals, or sometimes I just tell him. But it's got to be after I break the huddle," Chad said. "Sometimes I can see things that other people may not be able to see."

Against Denver, Chad knew Bailey would give him press coverage because it was third-and-short, so as he left the huddle he told Palmer to forget the original play, "and just throw a nine (route up the field), and he just threw it up there."

Chad had to wait until he got to the line of scrimmage against Rolle. The call was a slant, but Chad hand signaled Palmer to turn it into a slant-and -go.

"It was a two-way go, but I know Samari has been studying me and the formation and he knows I've been killing them on slants this year," Johnson said. "He knew I was going to go inside. I knew he knew I was going to go inside. So I just told Carson to pump it and go (outside) and he hit me in the hole between the safety (and Rolle).

"It's the little things like that. That's why we're going to get better," Chad said of their improv. "As long as CP and I are on the same page and it's working, it shouldn't be a problem."

Palmer says the sideline chats are paying off. P> "Coaches frown on it when it doesn't work, when it's a bad pass, an interception, or if something bad happens," said Palmer of the instant karma. "And they think it's great when something goes right.

"The more we get a chance to work together, the more we're in game-type situations, where we get that look," Palmer said, "and he knows what route I'm talking about, and what's in my head, and we connect on them more and more, the better we'll get."

Keyshawn made it quite clear that Chad better be better Sunday. Keyshawn raised the specter of already legendary hitter Roy Williams, the Cowboys' Pro Bowl safety.

"Catch the ball and get on the ground," is what Keyshawn said he told Chad. "Because I don't want to have to shoot Roy Williams. Catch the ball and get on the ground."

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