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Freezer Bowlers to be honored; Sellout push at 8,000; Injury report; 10-yard punt like block


Vontaze Burfict

The Bengals are bringing back a group of players that played in the Freezer Bowl for recognition before Sunday's 1:05 p.m. wild card game at Paul Brown Stadium, their first playoff game against the Chargers since the 1981 AFC title game played in minus-59 wind chill at Riverfront Stadium. The Bengals will host the players and their guests in a suite they could have used that day.

Those in attendance so far are James Brooks (best known as a Bengal but who played in that game as a Charger), Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz, Louis Breeden, Jim Breech, Robert Jackson, Pete Johnson, Tom Dinkel, Mike St. Clair, Ray Griffin, Rick Razzano and Glenn Bujnoch. Dave Lapham will be on the field pregame but he'll be working from the booth as the club's radio analyst.

» After a brisk afternoon of New Year's Day business Wednesday, the Bengals have whittled the sellout number to 8,000 for Sunday's 1 p.m. wild card game against the Chargers at Paul Brown Stadium and are giving every indication they'll ask the NFL for a 24-hour extension Thursday in their effort to hit the 4 p.m. Friday target for a sellout so the game can be televised locally.

With the Colts being granted an extension for their Saturday game against the Chiefs, it looks like the Bengals can get one and while they've got an impressive record for nailing sellouts after getting an extension they've never had this many tickets to go.

But Jeff Berding, the Bengals director of sales and public affairs, said Wednesday the club is encouraged and indicated it plans to reach out to the business community on Thursday with offices working after the holiday. And the PBS ticket office is open until 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Berding ticked off reasons for the difficulty in swinging a sellout.

"You have people extended financially throughout the holidays. You have the New Year holiday in the middle of the week, which interrupts your sales pattern," Berding said. "I don't know what the Colts season ticket base is. Obviously ours is lower than we want it to be. It's lower than it was in '09 and 2005, so we have a lot more tickets to sell on a single-game basis than you want. It's a challenge with a very short window."

But the Bengals remain confident and they plan to go all-out in an effort to secure a sellout for a team playing its first home playoff game since '09 and first one after an undefeated home regular season since 1988.

"What's funny is my first couple of years here we were awful and sold out every game," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said before Wednesday's practice. "The truth is I'm happy for every single fan that came out and bought a ticket to support us to win. The people that aren't I have no control over it and it's none of my business. I appreciate anyone that watches or comes to the games. I'm thankful for the Bengals fans that are here."

» Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green (knee) watched practice in sweats, but all signs are he's playing Sunday. That looks to be the same thing with left tackle Anthony Collins (ankle), right tackle Andre Smith (anke) and left guard Andrew Whitworth (ankle), not on the field but they appeared to be OK after Sunday's game. Kyle Cook (foot), also out, may be more questionable but he was not on crutches Wednesday. Cornerback Terence Newman (knee), trying to come back after missing the last three games, worked on the side. Defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry, who got poked in the eye Sunday, didn't work and is under the NFL concussion protocol.

Tight end Jermaine Gresham (hamstring), who didn't play last week, was limited but tight end Tyler Eifert (neck) was out after he missed Sunday's game. Linebacker Vinny Rey (ankle) was also limited.

In San Diego the Chargers didn't have running back Ryan Matthews (ankle) and wide receiver Eddie Royal (toe), but they figure to play Sunday.

Collins, Smith and Whitworth look like they're going to be OK. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander had high praise for their toughness after practice Wednesday. Collins and Whitworth came up lame at the same time in Sunday's game and said they couldn't go and since he had no tackles left, Alexander said "one of you has to go," and they rotated.

In his 19 years of coaching the offensive line Alexander said he never saw such a spate of injuries that surfaced Sunday. With the ranks thinned so much Wednesday, Alexander said he had to take some reps in the morning walkthrough: "My technique was flawless."  

» Zoltan Mesko, the new Bengals punter, isn't a complete stranger. Mesko, 27, a Romanian native who went to high school in Twinsburg, Ohio, grew up a fan of Bengals kicker Mike Nugent since he followed Ohio State and even went to a kicking camp and got pointers from Nugent, four years his senior.

Mesko wasn't among the five punters that tried out in the wake of Kevin Huber's injury two weeks ago, but special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons was well aware of him. His coach for three years in New England was Simmons mentor Scott O'Brien.

The 10-yard punt last Sunday by Shawn Powell didn't play well: "That's like a block," Simmons said.

» Bengals Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict is a big fan of Chargers running back Danny Woodhead, one of his main assignments Sunday out of the backfield. Burfict plays as Woodhead in Madden because of his ability to make the first tackler miss.

It was a Burfict day at PBS on Wednesday with last week's Pro Bowl selection and his crowning as the NFL's leading tackler for the regular season. Head coach Marvin Lewis reflected on pulling aside Bengals president Mike Brown after Burfict's first practice of rookie camp in 2012 and telling him, "This is kid is going to be special." He also kept the Ray Lewis comparisons going.

And linebackers coach Paul Guenther had this to say about Burfict's football acumen: "I told him when he's done playing I'm taking him with me as a coach."

» While the Bengals practiced on the grass fields, the game field was covered with a tarp in anticipation of Thursday's snow.

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