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Burning Questions

Bengaldom has enough burning questions this week to fuel a Jet, starting with if Carson Palmer has taken his last snap for awhile or for just a few days and ending with who exactly is Chad Ocho Cinco's "Munster?"

And in between there is T.J. Houshmandzadeh's open future and the vertical possibilities of Chris Henry.

"There were a couple times where I didn't have the confidence I normally have, just because my arm's not the same as previous to the injury," said Palmer in sending a death-eater chill through the place at his Wednesday news conference as he discussed his throwing elbow. "But as far as throwing balls, I felt like I missed a couple I shouldn't have missed, but that's the only thing I noticed."

Palmer says he'll play it like last week and if he can throw Friday after resting Wednesday and Thursday maybe he'll go in The Meadowlands Sunday against the Jets. But there is the sense if he has to go through all this again, what is the sense at playing The Franchise at 0-5 if he's not 100 percent?

Ocho Cinco said he didn't notice anything different about Palmer and he thought he was throwing the ball as well as ever Sunday in Dallas. But what Ocho Cinco continues to think is odd is that there was one long pass route called in the game.

"Anybody know my numbers?" Ocho Cinco asked the assembled media and when told 14 catches for 159 yards, he said, "Ridiculous. How can that be?"

Here is a guy who has caught 35 career balls of at least 40 yards and who doesn't have a catch longer than 22 this season. Houshmandzadeh, who has the longest catch for a Bengals wide receiver this year at 26 yards, is tied for fourth in the NFL with 31 catches and is 10th in yards, but his yards per catch is down to 11.3 this season from his career of 11.8. Palmer, who came into 2008 with a career yards per throw of 7.3, is mired at 5.7 with a wounded wing.

But offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said after Wednesday's practice that Palmer looked at all the deep throws in Sunday's game plan and was satisfied.

There are other reasons.

"We called some deep shots. We didn't get the looks we wanted, but we still went ahead and did it," Bratkowski said. "We haven't completed anything down the field. We've attempted. Maybe we haven't called as many opportunities for various reasons. Protection. Staying on the field converting third downs. Every week we carry a substantial list of shots down the field and tried to get them called. Nothing has changed in respect to the amount (of long passes) we carry in a game."

Bratkowski knows the next-to-last in the NFL rush average doesn't help.

"If you're not running it well and they're playing a lot more pass coverage where they keep two safeties deep or able to double guys and you can't run it, that's part of the issue," he said.

Houshmandzadeh and Ocho Cinco arent flogging Bratkowski's play calls. Ocho Cinco points to the players' inability to do the short stuff before they can go long and Houshmandzadeh is hoping the presence of Henry opens the playbook.

"With Slim playing, it opens up the offense and it gets the coaches to open it up more, which is strange to me," said Houshmandzadeh, expecting a looser game plan. "I don't care. They call the plays and we run them. I think we'll do things differently than we've done. Whether that's open it up or give the ball to different people, we'll see."

We'll see about Houshmandzadeh's future, too. The club's most consistent offensive player is a free agent at the end of the season and head coach Marvin Lewis ripped a printed rumor that the Bengals are going to trade him before this week's trading deadline.

But Houshmandzadeh did admit he wouldn't be surprised if he's not a Bengal next year because he hasn't heard a thing about a contract extension.

"If you haven't heard anything by now, what would you think?" he asked.

It sounds like he doesn't think he's going to get dealt.

"It's not like the NBA where they think, 'Let's get something for him since we're going to lose him at the end of the year,' " he said. "I don't ever really see that happening in the NFL."

Meanwhile, Ocho Cinco is frustrated, angry, mad, but he's been soothing himself by listening to head coach Marvin Lewis' advice to smile through the tough times. But he's also pointing the finger at the players.

"You have a basic game plan with basic stuff and until we can execute that stuff to a 'T' consistently (like) five, seven yards a pop. Or little plays like curls and outs with our eyes closed. When they get comfortable with us doing that stuff to perfection, that's when the other stuff comes on.

"You can say the play calling isn't where it needs to be. But if we're executing the simple stuff, they'd be comfortable calling the big stuff. We're not executing the little stuff and it puts (Bratkowski) in a bind upstairs. When we were rolling, Coach Brat called whatever he wanted."

And yes, The Ocho is at a loss. It's the same bunch of guys that put up huge numbers in '05, '06, and the first part of '07.

Ocho Cinco
"I don't know why. I talk to Coach Lew, I talk to Brat, I talk to Nine (Palmer)," Ocho Cinco said. "I don't know. Marvin has got that speech, 'Keep on plugging, keep on plugging.' We're 0-5. When is it going to click?"

The Ocho says he still doesn't have that mojo, that swagger that walk.

"You know when you all get that feeling when you write a great story?" Ocho Cinco asked. "I don't have that yet when I hit the field."

Ocho Cinco tried to explain his woes with a riddle.

"My shoulder is fine. My ankle is fine. But for those who don't know why I'm not getting the ball, I have my own philosophy," Ocho Cinco said. "Never, ever, ever, ever go against 'The Munster.' 'The Munster' always wins. It's hard to get to him, he's really high."

The Munster? He says it's not Lewis. Or Palmer ("Carson is like a part of me"). He wouldn't say it's Bengals president Mike Brown, the man that denied his trade request. He admitted, "Yeah, sometimes it's me."

With Palmer's elbow a big question and the long-ball numbers so bad, Houshmandzadeh is looking at Henry with his 15.6 career average per catch and eight plays of 40-plus yards.

Henry played his first game back from his four-game suspension Sunday and figures he played less than 10 snaps and had no catches. The 6-4 Henry also wasn't involved in the controversial two-point conversion in which Palmer threw an unsuccessful lob to tight end Ben Utecht.

"I just came back to practice so that really wasn't a surprise," Henry said. "They drew up that play and had been working on it all week.

"I'm not expecting to have a big day. But if it's going to happen I'm going to be ready."

Henry continues to impress the coaches and Bratkowski is leading the contingent.

"I thought he handled it real well," said Bratkowski of a guy that basically had three days of football since last year. "His assignments, when he was tested before the game, he knew exactly what we had targeted for him. He knew what it was and how to do it. We're bringing him along and he'll get more and more playing time.

"Since day one Chris has always been an extremely coachable player. That means when you correct him or talk to him about something, he takes it to heart and tries do it the right way. That has never been an issue with him and that helps him when he gets in this situation to get himself back up to speed."

Bratkowski hears his receivers lobbying for the big play. But don't they always?

"Let's just says it's (common) for receivers to say a lot of things about the passing game," Bratkowski said. "If they had their druthers, they would go deep every pass until they say they're playing too far off and then we'll throw it underneath every play. But that's the nature of the position. They feel like we're not going deep enough. When we hit a few, the comments are going to be, 'See, we should have been doing it,' but we've been trying all along."  

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