11-5-04, 7 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals lost one of their most valuable players Friday when wide receiver Peter Warrick became their unlucky 13th player to go on season-ending injured reserve in promoting linebacker Larry Stevens from the practice squad to the active roster.
And, Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson isn't encouraged about playing Sunday after not practicing for the third straight day, and may see his team-leading streak of 71 straight starts snapped against the Cowboys.
Warrick's continual absences on game day are a reason the Bengals are dead last in the NFL scoring touchdowns in the red zone and their third-down conversion rate has dropped nearly 10 percentage points from last season.
Warrick, who missed much of the spring camps and training camp with a rehabbing knee, suffered a small fracture in his fibula in what was believed to be the opener when he got his leg kicked against the Jets. Jim Gould, Warrick's Cincinnati-based agent, said that his client plans to have a simple outpatient procedure on the leg done by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., after consulting with the Bengals' medical team, and then begin his off-season rehab next week.
"Peter and the team agreed that this was the best way to resolve this," Gould said. "He's disappointed. He tried to play, but there was a lot of pain and we just felt the best thing to do was to do whatever has to be done to get ready for next year. He'll be here working with the Bengals' doctors and trainers."
After a career year for catches (79), yards (819), and touchdowns (seven) in 2003, Warrick finished with just 11 catches for 127 yards and no touchdowns in the first two games this season.
Warrick apparently played with the break against the Dolphins in Week 2 and was the Bengals' leading receiver with six catches for 51 yards. He only played the first few snaps of the third game, and has missed three of the last four. He played about a dozen snaps in the Oct. 25 win over Denver and didn't have a catch.
"Peter is very disappointed at not being able to perform, but his injury has not healed in a way that he could play productively," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "Our doctors all agree that the best course for Peter is to have a surgery that will allow him to fully recover in plenty of time for 2005."
Warrick is the 13th player to go on a season-ending reserve list since the start of training camp. Last year, the Bengals had three go on such a list, and the first move didn't happen until Dec. 9. Last week, the average for NFL teams this year was 4.9 players on injured reserve.
There is apparently no relation to the leg injury and to his knee problems that virtually wiped out his spring camps and training camp following arthroscopic surgery last December.
His absence has left a huge hole in the offense and on special teams. Last season, Warrick broke open the win over the unbeaten Chiefs with a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown in a season he averaged nearly 11 yards per return. Warrick had 87 yards in punt returns that day, four less than the Bengals have this season in seven games.
But the loss of Warrick's elusive moves have been felt most on third down and in the red zone. Last year, with Warrick working primarily out of the slot on third down, the Bengals led the AFC with a 44.7 percent conversion rate. Heading into Sunday's game, they are 12th at 35.4.
Last year, when they finished sixth in the NFL in touchdown percentage in the red zone, Warrick caught four of his seven touchdowns, produced eight first downs, and had 14 catches for 113 yards inside the foes' 20. This year, they are last at 28.6 after failing to get a touchdown in six straight red-zone trips, and seven of eight trips in the past two games.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who has been taking Warrick's spot in the starting lineup, as well as most of his snaps in the slot, has 22 catches for 314 yards and no touchdowns. His seven third-down catches are tied for 28th in the AFC
Although Anderson doesn't think he can play against the Cowboys, Lewis says the knee is getting better, and Anderson is apparently holding off on arthroscopic knee surgery.
Lewis said Friday that after consulting with doctors inside and outside the team, Anderson might be able to wait until after the season. But the situation is under scrutiny.
"Willie really wants to play on Sunday," Lewis said. "We'll see how he is. It's gotten better. Right now, he wants to go through the season. Willie doesn't want to miss games. You have to take your hat off to him for that. It can calm back down and everything would be nice, and we go back to where it was prior to last week's game."
Anderson hasn't missed a game since 1999, when he missed the only two games of his career with a sprained ankle and a sprained knee. Scott Kooistra, a seventh-round pick out of North Carolina State in 2003, could be the first man to start in Anderson's spot since Jamain Stephens in the '99 finale.
The 6-6, 320-pound Kooistra was injured himself during training camp and couldn't play in the pre-season games. In the last two years, he has had time with the offense as an extra tight end, and he's played in every game this year on special teams.
"He's had a good week of practice," Lewis said. "I'm hopeful that he's been around here a year and a half and he's ready for this opportunity. He's shown it. Now it's time to step up and do it."
Stevens, a college free agent out of Michigan, signed a two-year contract. He played in all four Bengals preseason games and finished tied for third on the team with 10 tackles. He also had two special teams tackles.