Bengaldom gets a big game

11-12-03, 2:50 p.m.

The Who-Dey flags are out. Those orange-and-black scarves wrapped around lamp posts and mail boxes are resurfacing. Kids are talking about the Bengals in Current Events again and parents are letting them.

Bengaldom is awash in the snap, crackle, pop of a Big Game Week. The undefeated Chiefs vs. the unheralded Bengals. Dick Vermeil's emotion vs. Marvin Lewis' passion. The buzz is about matchups and not blowouts. The scuttlebutt concerns a Priest and not the '04 draft. The only cap they're talking about is the one they hope they put on KC's Dante Hall returning punts and kicks.

Yes, there is a distant rumble in Bengaldom about the health, well-being and mind frame of Corey Dillon. But the skies are clear for Sunday.

This week's sampling from the e-mail bag in Hobson's Choice with a warm thanks for your interest and kindness.

**I have been a season ticket holder for close to ten years now. I have been to every game, and suffered the anguish of sitting through most of the games. To watch Goff try to jump into the stands this week was worth every dime spent, and all the misery I have endured during that span.

When the players get involved like that, it creates a frenzy with the fans, especially in the front row of the south endzone were I happen to sit. Now, with that being said, I get the impression that Marvin Lewis doesn't condone these types of celebrations. My question to you Mr. Hobson is this, does Lewis feel this way, if so, why? To all the players, come jump to us, we'll take care of you. thank you Chad, Greensburg, In**

CHAD: It's a little unclear what sets off Marvin in the celebration department. Something like what Goff did last Sunday we think is OK because it was fun, brief, and didn't take away from the moment. What will definitely get Lewis ticked is a 15-yard penalty, so that's probably where he draws the line. But his favorite celebration is Rudi Johnson dropping the ball on the ground. **

Hi Geoff, I have a Bengals history question that I hope you can answer as we look forward to this week's battle with the unbeaten Chiefs. Have the Bengals ever been responsible for one of Nick Buonticonti and Larry Csonka's champagne celebrations for beating the last undefeated team in a season? Here's hoping Nick and Larry are partying hard on Sunday night!! Jonathan Bengaldom (Durham), NC**

JONATHAN: Bengaldom in the heart of the ACC? A Carolina blue sky with an Orange sunset. Readng about that '72 crew, the old Dolphins may be partying no matter the score. The resident knight of the numbers, Bengals public relations director Jack Brennan, has mined his way through it and the best team the Bengals have come up against were the '98 Broncos at 7-0. Larry and Nick would have been drinking coffee after Terrell Davis scored from five yards out with 58 seconds left in Denver's 33-26 victory. **

OK, I have been a Bengals fan for years. I have seen many Bengals come and go. Corey is no exception, why should we bow down to him? Corey is walking on egg shells right now, and is making all the wrong verbal choices. Why didn't he show up for Sunday's game?????? This shows he's not a team player! Like he said and I quote "This is not about the Bengals, this is about Corey Dillon" Where is the team player in that??? Thank you, Nicholas Cincinnati, Oh **

You can't crucify Dillon for not being at Sunday's game because on Monday Marvin Lewis basically said that he excused him. Yes, all the other injured guys were on the sideline, but apparently it's on a case-by-case basis. We think it's pretty clear that Dillon is having a hard time grappling with his first major injury and it looks like Lewis figured it was best for him and everyone involved to excuse him. It probably

eased Dillon's frustration and it kept the spotlight squarely on the guys who played.

But this is all guesswork because Lewis isn't revealing any of his private talks with Dillon. Frankly, no one knows if Lewis has struck a deal with Dillon for the last half of the season. Does he want to treat Dillon differently so he keeps his frustration away from the team? Then, does he risk alienating other guys who think there are two sets of rules? But is Dillon, who made it sound like he's not close to his teammates when he vented last month, a factor at all in chemistry?

Who knows? But, look. Lewis is a good coach because he's a people person who knows how to handle players and he's trying to win the AFC North. Imagine how a physically and mentally healthy Dillon can tip the balance of power in a stretch run.

Lewis' bottom line is the team. They aren't deep at running back and it's a long seven games. In the past, we've objected to the assertion that Dillon isn't a team player. He's taken too many hits and played too hurt and done too much in seven years to be labeled not a team player. But when you see Reggie Kelly out there on crutches cheering on his guys, it makes you hope Dillon at some point could curb his frustration for 60 minutes. **

With Rudi being a class act and the hot RB at the time, does Marvin plan to start him for the KC game, amongst others? Plus, with all this trouble with Dillon, how do the other teammates and Marvin feel about it on the inside.

Also, being in Athens, I don't have the luxury to going to any games, (I hope to go to the SF game), do you think that this game will sell out finally? Thanks, pumped up fan**

PUMPED UP: A sellout is a strong possibility. Getting a read on what Lewis is going to do with a healthy Rudi and CD is not. With Dillon starting the week at doubtful, it's doubtful he'd be 100 percent by Sunday and it's an indication he's not going to practice. That's a big thing because everyone involved in last week's performance credited the 240 yards rushing to timing developed in practice.

Here's Lewis' dilemma. Both backs, as are most running backs, are guys who need 20-plus carries to get into a groove. **

After seeing Rudi run, who will Coach Lewis start against the Chiefs if CD is healthy? Is there really a timing issue between the O-Line and the running back(s) like there is between a QB and the receivers? Or is that just a bunch of crap? I will be on the road this weekend, but you can bet my DVR will be recording the game on Sunday. Go Bengals! David, Cumming, Ga. p.s. And I will be doing my part to bring back the jungle when the Browns come to town. You can tell Coach Lewis that I don't even live there, but I have made my "investment". It is time for the rest of Cincy to step up!**

DAVID: It's not a bunch of what you said. To a man, Johnson and the offensive line talked about how important getting the timing down in practice has been in reviving the running game. **

What's up Hobson, I got to make this statement. Why can't we let this "Dillon issue" just die. Are we (the fans) and media just used to prolonging exusses why the bengals lose, It's like in the past years, we always had someone to put the blame on. BUT WE'RE WINNING THIS YEAR. I'm just tired there is always got to be a negative spin on the Bengals. My question is, Do you think T.J. Houshmandzadeh could be activated for this Sunday's game against K.C.? and if so, do you think he could be the factor in the game?**

FACTOR: We think the Dillon issue isn't nearly as big as it would be if this club was 1-8 or 2-7. It was barely mentioned Sunday (except by the fans on talk radio and even then people talked more about the game)and on Monday Lewis mentioned it briefly. Yeah, it got a headline (and should have) in the morning paper, but it was on Tuesday and not Monday.

And we have to talk about it because Dillon is the franchise's all-time leading rusher, a potential Hall of Famer, and the guy replacing him is turning into one of the NFL's biggest surprises and feel-good stories of the year.

T.J. thinks he has a good shot to play against the Chiefs, but it remains to be seen if he'll move ahead of Kelley Washington.

Consistnecy seems to be the benchmark for successful teams ,whether it is in players or a system. We can surely see this in our offense with the players and "Brat" being together now for two or three years. Our defense has played somewhat inconsistent , though they do play fast in the fourth quarter due to great conditioning , and there surely is some talent on that side of the ball. With the bengals in the playoff hunt( even more so now with the Ravens Qb woes) will this opportunistic group of players get more comfortable with each other and the system to me the defense that Marvin and Leslie are looking for, or will there be some changes here next year ? Thanks, Mark Ashland, Ky.

MARK: They aren't happy with how the defense is playing and here's a prediction. There'll be as many changes on defense next year as there was this year. We would think they're looking for more playmakers at linebacker and safety, and more depth at cornerback. **

Dear Geoff, I was wandering if hawkins is gone after this year. could we end up going after champ bailey in the off-season Tony In PA**

TONY: Hawkins has another year left on his contract. As for going after Bailey, it's a good fit with Lewis and Frazier but it just might not be doable with the current salary cap situation because he may be the biggest number on the free-agent market and can you do that the year after you gave Carson Palmer the biggest number in the draft. Plus, he may be franchised. **

One question! WHY?... I love the possitive attitude, love to see the team winning and having fun. But even "IF" Big if.. The Bengals win, I don't see the purpose of guaranteeing a victory. It seems to me that you are adding fuel to a game that the Bengals are already going to need a prayer to pull off.

Don't get me wrong; I will be cheering them on and hoping for the huge upset. But to pull this game off they will have to play better than any game this year, including the Baltimore game. So again "Why" give KC more reason to want to win this game.. They are undefeated that's enough reason to come out wanting to win.. But Now.. They will want to humiliate the Bengals..

I would like to say one thing to Chad.. " Dear Chad.. I love what you have brought to this team.. But please this Sunday put up or shut up!"

O.k. I lied 2 more questions..What do you see the Bengals needing to do to pull off such a large upset, and with the injury to the Ravens QB, does that make Cincy's opportunities look better? They still have some big games coming up.. Steelers, (Rematch with Ravens) Rams, 49ers, And I still don't think Browns or Chargers are a sure win! However on the other side of the coin if the Bengals can sneak away with a win Sunday... The confidence of this team could take them to the playoffs! And let me just say I don't think any team will want to play Cincy after 13 years of frustration! Go Bengals.."A Fan Keeping the Faith" Tony Monticello, KY

TONY: Not what a coach would have wanted, but, what the heck, it's fun. This is sports, not Tax Day. It's supposed to be fun. We wonder about this adding fuel-to-the-fire stuff. At 9-0, did you think the Chiefs were going to overlook these guys with the media all over them about the 17-0 Dolphins? They haven't overlooked anyone yet. Your concerns are valid, but relax and let Chad take you for a ride.

They have to do what they did against the Texans to beat the Chiefs. Run it, run it, run it some more and cash in the red zone. Control the clock, keep Priest Holmes off the field, and have a two-touchdown lead whenever kicking to Dante Hall. **

Butch, the Bengals are looking good and the Jungle will be rocking for KC, thank you again for the articles and connection to the players. Playoff hopes are abounding as we currently own the tiebreaker with a win at Baltimore. It looks like Palmer doesn't have a good chance at getting any starting time as even if we fall two games back again, it will likely be decided on the field at Baltimore. Leaving only two games after that. I hope you're having fun, I know I am.

Is there a way a small remodeling of the endzone seating sections can be lowered to allow for the up and coming Bengal's Bounce? If we get clearance from the county for new turf could we add that to the list. It's clear that's what the players want to do. The lineman, like Goff, need something to do since "The Squirrel" is already taken and the wall is too high for a lineman's vertical. As awesome a job as Chip and Kurtis have done I think it is beyond even them to get Goff to jump that high.

Can we put a daily counter on how many tickets are sold? The city needs to know that these games should be soldout, we're getting a wonderful product.

There's a lot of speculation on the Bengal's 2004 cap status in various fan forums. John Clayton of ESPN wrote we are 13 million under with our current 2004 commitments. Is that accurate and what does it include? Do you have an official number we can work off of?

Was Khalid Abdullah brought here to quickly compete for a starting job or more as a solid situational pass play LB? I see him on the field, but how is he progressing in practice? I'm expecting big things out of him, I hope the coaches are too, since Marvin has Midas' golden touch with LBs.

Should we look for Ron Dugans to be signed after Week 10?

Which Bengal's scout is in charge of scouting current NFL players? We made a lot of moves earlier, they're clearly active and have made good use of the waiver wire. Hats off to them. Taylor from Fairfield**

TAYLOR: Given how much controversy this stadium has ignited, we doubt anybody would touch this place with a 10-foot pole for any type of renovation in the near future. Hopefully,re-modeling the team is enough.

Ticket counts aren't public, but the media does a good job passing the word on how close they are to sellouts.

That $13 million doesn't take into account the rookie pool (figure $4 million), big-time incentives for Carson Palmer, offers to restricted free agents and exclusive rights free agents, contract extensions that will no doubt be offered during the offseason, and contracts that need to be signed at spots now manned by free agents, such as right guard. It's hard to give you a solid number until just before free agency.

Abdullah seems to be fine, but don't look for Dugans with rookie Kevin Walter playing so well on special teams.

Jim Lippincott, Duke Tobin, and John Garrett are the prime pro guys. But the moves that have been made during the season have been primarily guys who have been with Lewis somewhere along the way.

**

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