Updated: 10:30 p.m.
Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons is calling this stretch of games against Cleveland, Baltimore, Houston and Chicago "Murderer's Row," and if you thought the Browns' Josh Cribbs killed enough yards, the Texans may be even more dangerous.
Barely had the fans settled into the Reliant Stadium seats last year when the Texans' Jacoby Jones baked the Bengals on a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown that set the tone for a 35-6 bloodletting. Jones is still streaking with 12.5 yards per pop in putting the Texans seventh in the NFL. They are even better on kick returns (fifth) where Jones has a 95-yard touchdown.
But Simmons, still smarting from the Cribbs-fueled 239 yards on kicks and punts, is also looking at Andre Davis after his 62-yard return last Sunday gave Houston one last hope before Arizona pulled it out.
"We know (Jones) is as explosive as can be," Simmons said. "And Davis made a hell of a play just to keep them in the game. No, he's not as big as Cribbs (6-1, 194 pounds). He's a track guy with great linear speed. You can't catch him in the open field. We've got to be sound, stay in our lanes, be really physical tacklers, and be better and sounder with leverage responsibilities."
The 6-2, 206-pound Jones is still an inch shorter and 10 pounds lighter than Cribbs, but he's still a force. If the Bengals fail to tackle those two like they did Cribbs, the Texans will make short work of the Bengals because their offense is so much more competent than the Browns.
"They're big guys that can run, but they both have a tendency to fumble the ball and make poor decisions," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, "so we hope to knock one loose and make it a big play for us. So we have to do a good job of being in our lanes, and tackle once we get there."
NAME DROPPER:Lewis took exception to the characterization that fullback Jeremi Johnson and tight end Dan Coats dropped touchdown passes Sunday in Baltimore. Or that wide receiver Laveranues Coles dropped the first pass of the game.
"I said maybe (Coats) dropped one, but it got flashed right in front of him," Lewis said. "Certainly the one there at the end of the game, he had no chance to catch that football. I mean, he didn't even see the ball. I don't remember Jeremi Johnson dropping the ball last game, but I read that somewhere. I don't remember that play. So, again, maybe Daniel on the one ball where the ball got flashed right in front of him. He wasn't expecting the ball at that point, and Carson went ahead and delivered it, because he was under pressure.
"It was a little bit before the break point, so it got up on Daniel right as he was coming out of the break and putting his foot in the ground and making it stick, and boom, the ball was there. That was kind of the same thing that happened with Laveranues. The ball was there before Laveranues was expecting it. That was the first play of the ballgame. I don't know that I would consider either of those really drops."
INJURY UPDATE:Carson Palmer appeared in Wednesday's practice just like he did at the end of Sunday's game, with a glove on his left hand protecting his sprained thumb, and he went full go. So did defensive tackle Tank Johnson (foot), safety Chinedum Ndukwe (hamstring), and linebacker Rashad Jeanty (finger). It took Jeanty just nine days to get back on the field after surgery for the fracture of a ring finger.
Running back Brian Leonard (groin), defensive end Frostee Rucker (ankle), and wide receiver Jerome Simpson (illness) didn't dress. Safety Kyries Hebert (hip) was limited.
Palmer did say he'll be able to hand off with the left hand, which he couldn't do late in Sunday's game but didn't know if there would be another tape job involved. He was prepared to go with the other hand when the crisis hit against the Ravens.
"I broke my collarbone in college one time and needed to do that for a couple games," he said. "I've done it before and it's one of those things you do on the fly. Ced (Cedric Benson) did a great job on ball security."
MARINE CORPS CEREMONY: A partnership between the Bengals and the United States Marines Corps will bring more than 200 future Marines to Paul Brown Stadium for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.
During a halftime ceremony, fans will have the rare opportunity to see hometown men and women enlist in the Marine Corps. The ceremony will honor those who are making the commitment.
The ceremony will also include a video of active-duty Cincinnati Marines currently serving in Iraq.
Prior to the 1 p.m. kickoff, a special display in the Jungle Zone (located on the east side of the stadium) will allow fans to meet guests from the Marine Corps and participate in a number of special activities.
Tickets for Sunday's game are available through the Bengals ticket hotline at 513-621-8383 (TDTD). They are also available online by clicking here or in person at the Bengals ticket office at Paul Brown Stadium.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Rookie right tackle Andre Smith said Wednesday he's close to returning to practice. No one will say what "close" means but head coach Marvin Lewis in his Wednesday news conference that if Smith is doing field work, he's close. And that's what he's been doing for the last week or so as he rehabs his broken foot. With just two weeks left until the bye week, it looks like a post-Nov. 1 return.
» Not much reaction from players and Lewis about the Texans game probably not selling out this Sunday. The Bengals indicated Wednesday during the lunch hour that there has not been the spike needed to get them over the top by Thursday 1 p.m.
"We wish it would; hopefully it will," Lewis said. "We're playing a very good football team and our guys are playing good football right now. We're getting better every time we go out there. Every time we have meetings we get better. Every time we go out to practice we get better. We just have to keep working. Hopefully it will get filled up, we'll sell the rest of those tickets ... to me it would be more fun to come the stadium instead of sitting at home and watching it, anyway."
»Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, told that withthe departure of St. Louis he is now the senior Bengal with nine years and 126 games: "Is there a raise with that?" The new statesmanlike Ocho has checked two of the 10 cornerbacks that have played him this year, meaning he felt they beat him: Denver's Champ Bailey and Cleveland's Brandon McDonald ("He knocked down a few passes.").