Down the stretch

Posted: 10 p.m.

With another bow to the twin titans,
Cincinnati TalkMaster Lance McAlister and Sports Illustrated strongman Peter King, here are some things I Think I Believe I Know:

**

I Think I Believe I Know:** Sorry Paul The Doc, but I want to know everything about Carson Palmer's rehab.

I not only want to know what yard line he's throwing from, but from which hash.

I want Nick Cosgray's rehab sessions to be televised on NFL Network with a Dave Lapham soundtrack complete with, "He's got him."

I want the guy who measures Olympic long jumps complete with a straw hat to tell Gil Brandt how far are his comebacks and how high he's lofting the 9 route and Gil posts them on NFL.com like they were those precious 40-yard combine times.

Wouldn't anything be better than the current rushing stats and the current Dow Jones? Sorry, I can't tell them apart.

And this is no knock on Palmer's backup, Ryan Fitzpatrick, because he's not getting a whole lot of help. But in Palmer's last two starts, the Bengals averaged 308 yards and 22.5 points with a bad wing. Since then, it's 230 and 10.

He is the first, second, and third items on the offseason agenda. What about this scenario?

palmer_carson.jpg

Palmer

If Palmer isn't going to be ready right away in '09, Fitzpatrick is going to be a free agent and the Bengals have to chase a quarterback that gets them to 2-2 by the time Palmer gets back, what does that do to keeping Shayne Graham, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Stacy Andrews?

Of course, that's the Doomsday Scenario. All signs are pointing to no surgery. And if Palmer did need surgery and had it by the end of the year, the thinking is he'd be back for training camp.

So if it's OK with you, Doc, I just put in a Google alert for "Carson Palmer '09."

**

I Think I Believe I Know:** Rookie left tackle Anthony Collins is a work in progress.

And that's not a bad thing. He's got confidence and he's got athleticism, but it'd be hard for an established veteran to come out of a run of James Harrison, Terrell Suggs and Dwight Freeney without some dents, never mind that they were his first three NFL foes.

It will be interesting to see how the Bengals will use veteran left tackle Levi Jones in the last three games as he comes back from a back problem. How much do they need to see from Collins before deciding what to do at the top of the draft, where currently left tackles are the top value? **

I Think I Believe I Know:** Marvin Lewis flashed a bit of the future Sunday in Indy when he started rookie wide receiver Jerome Simpson and gave him his most snaps in a game.

Right?

Lewis hopped on Simpson postgame, blaming him for one of cornerback Kelvin Hayden's interceptions. It appeared Simpson didn't move aggressively enough to break up the interception on a slant he didn't run very crisply.

But Lewis went to great lengths to praise him in Monday's news conference.

simpson_jerome.jpg

Simpson

"This guy has worked his tail off and unfortunately, yesterday, he didn't have all stellar football plays. But he's our guy, and he's going to be our guy for a long time," Lewis said. "And I like him and everything about him. We've just got to get him to play better and understand his responsibilities and the competitiveness of an NFL field. You're out here playing for lunch tickets. and if you don't get it, that guy's going to take yours. So let's make sure we get it done. I think it's a good learning experience. Sometimes the only way they get a chance to learn is to go out and play. He got more opportunity yesterday than he's gotten all year when it counted, and even though it didn't all turn out well, it was good experience for him. Something for him to grow upon."

Yet how much of the future did we see?

Simpson started in place of Chad Ocho Cinco and he took some of his snaps, as evidenced by the first and last series of the first half. They both play the X spot.

But Houshmandzadeh figures it is he who is going to be gone next year and not The Ocho. He figures the club won't let both of them go because of the experience factor.

Lewis, obviously, wants Houshmandzadeh back, as well as Andrews. Houshmandzadeh is a tough sell with some because of his age (32 next September), but Lewis made it clear he thinks the guy isn't done.

"I think they still have a lot of football left in them, which is also important. I think they have the ability to produce at a high level, even a higher level than they are," he said.

And the question is how do the Bengals replace Houshmandzadeh's leadership at receiver and on the offense?

"He's played with pain, he plays through injury," Lewis said. "He gets knocked around a lot in there with the third-down catches he makes all the time. You've got to respect that. Those are all things the football team needs."

**

I Think I Believe I Know:** These offensive numbers can't be real.

With a projection of 190 points, the Bengals are on pace to score just five more than the 2000 Bengals of Akili Smith and Scott Mitchell.

With a projection of 3,742 yards, they are on pace to gain their fewest yards since the 1968 expansion Bengals played 14 games.

One thing the '00 and '08 teams have in common is they played four games against monstrous defenses in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. This year the Steelers and Ravens were No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the NFL when the Bengals played them back-to-back last month. In '00, they finished second and seventh, respectively.

**

I Think I Believe I Know:** Lewis and Bengals president Mike Brown should take Sam Wyche's advice and not meet the day right after the season ends.

Wyche has always felt that if they had rested for a couple of days and cleared their heads instead of holding their ill-fated summit right away on Christmas Eve morning that he would have been the coach in 1992.

There are going to be about 8,000 scenarios posted, blogged, reported, floated, clarified and denied between now and the end of this 2008 season and it won't matter.

If tradition holds up, nothing happens until Brown sits down with Lewis after the Dec. 28 finale.

All signs are pointing to Lewis coming back and certainly Brown paved the way for it with his comments last week. But as for what happens beyond that, it most likely won't be talked about until then.

Certainly Lewis indicated Monday his focus is on coaching the last three games when asked how much conversation he's had about potential free agents.

"Zero, none from me," he said and when asked about the front office he said, "I'm sure they visit all the time about things. But it's not a focus I have to deal with."

**

I Think I Believe I Know:** Former Bengals safety Solomon Wilcots is one of the preeminent analysts in the game on CBS and the NFL Network because he works at it.

He has worked the last two Bengals games as a CBS analyst and he's got a pretty intriguing take after calling the first back-to-back 30-point losses in club history.

A take, actually, you don't see too often because most pundits are blaming injuries and underachievement.

"They just flat-out don't have the talent that other teams do; plain and simple," Wilcots opined Monday. "They've brought people in to replace guys since 2005, and the only thing you can conclude is that they haven't been as good as the people they replaced."

Wilcots starts at the offensive line because, he says, Paul Brown did.

"That's why he went through different backs and different receivers. You can always find those guys, but the line makes it all go," he said. "Eric Steinbach was their most versatile and best lineman, but they wouldn't pay him because he's a guard. They never replaced Rich Braham. How good was Willie Anderson back in the day?"

Wilcots even goes as far to say that there was more talent here after Lewis' first draft in 2003 than there is now.

"And I'm not saying it's all Mike Brown's fault," he said. "I'm not blaming scouts, coaches, GM, whatever. But in 2005, I didn't hear Mike taking any of the credit. Everyone has to take all of the credit and all of the blame."

Wilcots believes Lewis is going to stay and he thinks he should. "He deserves it." He also thinks it's one of the top coaching jobs in the NFL.

Next to the one in Pittsburgh.

"The Steelers because they've got everything in place and they do a great job running it," Wilcots said. "Cincinnati is a great place to coach because of the access to the owner. A lot of coaches have to fight through a GM to get to the owner, so he's fighting two guys. Not only can you talk to the owner and give him your side of the story, but Mike is a guy that admires coaches. Yeah, the thing you have to deal with is that he's a stubborn guy set in his ways. He's a lawyer. But you give him a good argument and a lot of the times he'll listen."

**

I Think I Believe I Know:** When I saw two things Sunday in Indy I knew Lewis should continue to be the head coach of this team: 1. Safety Kyries Hebert chasing down Colts receiver Marvin Harrison from 60 yards out; 2. Collins talking back to Freeney.

They showed some attitude, some confidence, some will, all things the Bengals desperately need in droves next year to get it back on track and it has to come from your leader.

Hebert's play is self explanatory in a 21-3 game in a 1-10-1 season. That came a week after safety Marvin White played three quarters on a torn ACL. Lewis is clearly still coaching and, OK, sure, you can say he's supposed to. But I give you and me five minutes trying to motivate guys in this situation.

As for Collins, I wish he'd kept his mouth shut when Freeney baited him (he never really quite got it back) and I wish he hadn't said he was going to be a great NFL player after his team got beat by 32. But you've got to like what it shows inside: Fire and pride. All he has to do is learn when and how to use it.

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