Bengals strong safety Chris Carter lines up across Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe Sunday, just like he did several times at practice as a member of New England's scout team the past few seasons.

Not only does Bledsoe throw lasers, according to Carter's scouting report. But he's got a great feel for the three receivers he's been throwing to since 1996.

"No. 1, he's accurate," Carter said Friday. "He's got a great arm and can throw just about any kind of pass. He's got a feel for what his receivers are trying to do back there. He can read a defense."

Carter figures the only way to beat Bledsoe is to put him on his back, where he's spent much of the 21st century and which is why the Patriots are 2-8. His throwing thumb is mangled (there are rumors of ligament damage) with the Patriots allowing the third most sacks in the NFL with 37.

"Their biggest downfall is they haven't been able to protect him," Carter said. "In their eight losses, he's had trouble getting time."

Bledsoe has been sacked 28 times in the losses, including a seven-sacker against the Colts and two six-sack games. But if he gets the time the Bengals gave quarterback Troy Aikman last week in Dallas. . .

"It will be a long day," said Bengals, reserve linebacker Marc Megna, another former Patriot who practiced against Bledsoe. "He's so accurate. He can get it into spots even if you've got a guy covered. We've got to play pretty close to perfect to stop him." . . . more

Carter has regard for speedy wideouts Terry Glenn and Tony Simmons, but he's got a lot of admiration for 5-10, 190-pound Troy Brown, an eight-year man with 14 third-down catches this season.

"He always finds a way to get open and make first downs," Carter said. "He's not so much fast, but he's smart and quick and Drew's been throwing to him a long time."

The New England media is banging on coach Bill Belichick to get Bledsoe out of there before he gets seriously hurt. But Carter isn't surprised Bledsoe is hanging in there. After all, he's missed just six games in his eight-year career.

"He's a tough guy," Carter said. "He's a guy who always wants to play. A guy you can depend on. I don't know how much (the injured thumb) has hampered him, but if he's out there, he's going to be throwing it."

Carter returns to Foxboro as the Bengals starting strong safety, but he's making little of it. He started 15 games at free safety for the Patriots last season and was the club's fourth-leading tackler and finished second with three interceptions.

But with Belichick in his first year, the Patriots let him go after the last exhibition game. The Bengals picked Carter off waivers Aug. 28.

Although Carter's reputation in New England is he wouldn't tackle, the Bengals were pleased enough to extend his contract for another year shortly after he became a starter before the sixth game of the season.

Carter knows the Patriots have struggled to find an answer at free safety, where they've had four different starters since he left.

"I could only speculate why they let me go, but that's not the important thing," Carter said. "The biggest thing I'm worried about doing is doing enough so that I can help us win."

MATCHUPS: The Bengals need to put heat on quarterback Drew Bledsoe through the suspect middle of New England's suspect pass protection. Bengals DTs Oliver Gibson, John Copeland and Tom Barndt have to make hay against struggling Patriots Gs Joe Andruzzi and Sale Isaia.

Bengals S Cory Hall is looking for his fourth sack and would have the size edge if matched on the blitz against Patriots RB Kevin Faulk. Patriots DE Willie McGinest lines up all over the place and will have his eye on Bengals LT Rod Jones.

Rookie Bengals WR Peter Warrick has a class with veteran Patriots LCB Ty Law. Another rookie, Bengals LCB Robert Bean, makes his first NFL start against the game-breaking potential of Patriots WR Terry Glenn. New England middle linebacker Ted Johnson is injured, so Bengals RB Corey Dillon could get a shot at Patriots LB Rob Holmberg. Bengals punter Daniel Pope has to hang them high to Patriots PR Troy Brown.

GIBSON, ET. AL VS. ANDRUZZI, ISAIA: Andruzzi gave up two sacks last week against the Browns to someone named Stalin Colinet. The Pats have been hampered by miscommunication on the line against inside stunts and blitzes. Copeland may not go because of pain in his lower back, and Barndt would be making his first start in a month as he recovers from a bicep injury. But Gibson has been solid with three sacks.

HALL VS. FAULK: The 6-0, 210-pound Hall has been active on passing downs and has three sacks on blitzes. The 5-8, 200-pound Faulk isn't known as a great blitz pickup. With every-down RB J.R. Redmond hurting with a rib injury that cut off his 60-yard, 10-carry effort last week, the Bengals wouldn't mind seeing Faulk and his five fumbles this season carrying the ball.

JONES VS. MCGINEST: McGinest, who didn't go to Cleveland because of a calf injury last week, isn't a lock to play. Jones has struggled, but he has some supporters who think last week's sack-and-fumble by quarterback Akili Smith wasn't entirely Jones' fault.

With the left-handed Scott Mitchell now at quarterback, Jones has bequeathed the quarterback's blindside to RT Willie Anderson. But even if McGinest is hurting, he's got the kind of speed that gives Jones' problems. But McGinest could rush from anywhere, including up the middle. **

WARRICK VS. LAW:** Warrick hasn't caught a ball of at least 20 yards since the second game of the season and this will be a tough game for him to break out against the Pro Bowl caliber Law.

Belichick has started matching Law against teams' best receivers one-on-one, and last week Law held the Browns' Kevin Johnson to 23 yards on three catches, one of which was against a zone.

BEAN VS. GLENN: Bean has a knack for getting the ball and the Bengals need a play. In 10 games, they have just one interception from a cornerback. The Boston sporting press didn't appreciate Glenn's "pedestrian," six catches for 65 yards in Cleveland on the heels of his new $50 million deal.

DILLON VS. HOLMBERG:With Johnson out, the Browns hurt New England on the ground with Travis Prentice getting 4.4 yards a clip on the way to 84 yards rushing. Cleveland certainly didn't beat New England on quarterback Doug Pederson's 20 completions netting seven yards per pop.

POPE VS. BROWN: Except for letting a snap slide through his hands last week, Pope has been solid with 12 kicks inside the 20, compared to seven touchbacks. He'll have to be on because Brown leads the AFC and is second in the NFL with a 16.1 punt return average. He ripped off 51 yards on three tries against the Browns last week, putting him just 82 more yards away from the immortal Mack Herron's fourth best return season ever by a Patriot in 1974. Brown is just 173 yards shy of Hall-of-Famer Mike Haynes' club-record 608 in 1976.


BY THE NUMBERS: All the numbers you need this weekend, including 6 and 7. Six is the number of games Partiots quarterback Drew Bledsoe has missed out of 122 since his rookie season of 1993. Seven is the number of different starting quarterbacks the Bengals have had since Bledsoe's been in the league. . . more

145 _ Yards Bengals running back Corey Dillon needs for his fourth straight 1,000-yard season, which has never been done in Bengals' history.

7-0 _ The Bengals' record when Dillon rushes for at least 125 yards.

4 _ Games the Pats have allowed a running back 125 yards the past four seasons.

30 _ Peter Warrick's Bengals-leading catch total.

41 _ Minimum catch total for three New England players.

7 _ Average margin of defeat in New England's eight losses.

9 _ Bengals' average points per game.

17 _ Average margin of defeat in Bengals' eight losses.

0 _ Bengals' touchdowns scored outside Ohio this season.

27 _ Consecutive quarters without a Bengals' touchdown pass.

207 _ NFL starts Partiots left tackle Bruce Armstrong logs when he lines up Sunday, breaking the club record for games set by defensive end Julius Adams.

253 _ NFL starts by the Bengals' offensive line.


BALL IN PLAY:** The Bengals all but clinched the top pick in the 1994 Draft (Ohio State defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson) when they fell to 1-12 against the 2-11 Patriots in a 7-2 loss the last time the clubs mets in Foxboro on Dec. 12, 1993.

Bengals running back Eric Ball got stuffed for a loss of a yard on what would have been a game-tying touchdown on fourth down from the New England 1 with 1:16 left in the game.

It should be known that Ball, now the Bengals' director of player relations, had a gimpy ankle when he was called on to make his only carry of the day.

Asked if he was a bit cold coming off the bench, Ball smiled and said, "Probably. It was so long ago, but the only thing I had probably done all day was special teams. It was a sweep left, and there was pursuit from the inside."


FRIDAY'S INACTIVES:** Bengals: FB Clif Groce, LT John Jackson, LB/S JoJuan Armour, WR Damon Griffin; Patriots: MLB Ted Johnson, LB Matt Chatham, OT John Rawlings, DE David Nugent.

INJURY UPDATE: The Bengals are hoping DT John Copeland (back) gets better before game time because he probably couldn't go after working a bit in Friday's practice. Tom Barndt would probably get the start.

Starting FB Clif Groce (knee) is inactive for the third time in four weeks. LB Canute Curtis (hand) is probable. LB Adrian Ross (ankle) is doubtful.

WEATHER CALL: News radio WBZ-1030 AM in Boston is calling for temperatures in the low 40s with a gusty wind that will make it feel like it's in the 30s. Partly sunny with no rain.


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