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Hobson's Choice: Still early

Q: Do you think it is time for 22 to start over 20? Tory was a great acquisition when he came and he had a good run but he looks a little long in the tooth out there. I am scared to death anytime the ball is thrown on his side and a power sweep to his side, forget about it. It's going at least 10 yards.

I feel much safer with JJ out there. He seems to be fundamentally sound, bigger than Tory and more physical and of course much faster so if he gets beat (which seems to be hard to do) he can make up ground quicker. Get the rook some action and sit Tory.
**--Rashied R., Brooklyn, N.Y.

RASHIED:** Except for the JJ mention, this e-mail could have been postmarked September of 2004, about the time he was benched, but remember how he got it together and went to the Pro Bowl that year?

Granted, the Johnathan Joseph dynamic wasn't here in '04 and that may make the fuse a little shorter because there's no question the Bengals got a good one in the first round this trip.

And there's no question that James has to tackle. Both James and Deltha O'Neal hear it all the time from Lewis. You'd swear he'd rather see those guys come up on the perimeter and cut down a 220-pound back down in space rather than make a pick.

But don't sell James short. Yeah, he looks a little creaky now, but he's proven since he's been here that he's a slow starter who finishes strong as evidenced by his Pro Bowl season that began when Falcons quarterback Matt Schaub filleted him in a preseason game in Atlanta.

And, yeah, James is 33 now instead of 31, but they actually thought he had a better year last year than that Pro Bowl year of '04.

So if it's too early to panic on the Bengals after the blow-out loss to the Pats, then it's also too early to panic on a proven guy who has 36 career interceptions.

But with Joseph around, you have to figure the leash is shorter than it was two years ago.

Q: I'm reading Lewis' comments about Sunday's game and his disappointments with their run game, and how they didn't get after it enough or whatever, but it seemed to me (and the people I was watching the game with) that they abandoned the run in the second half, even before they were looking at a huge deficit. Rudi seemed to be hitting the holes pretty well and was picking up good gains before they became pass-happy.

This seems to be something that Bratkowski does when games get tight. He puts too much faith in Palmer to move the ball exclusively through the air and they become a one-dimensional team. It's extremely frustrating, especially when we have a 1,400-yd back that's being wasted. I think New England showed that its possible to dominate someone without throwing the the ball 40 times.
**--Kelly, Washington, D.C.

KELLY:** No second-guessing here. It's too easy and Brat has accomplished too much. The only thing I'll say is that Belichick dared the Bengals to run and I'm not so sure they took the dare.

For the most part, Belichick played it safe Sunday with his we'll-make-you-make-a-mistake Cover 2 soft zone that refuses to get beat deep. You'd like to think you'd be able to run against it (make that, you have to run against it) and they certainly did when Rudi averaged 4.6 yards for his nine carries in the first half.

When they got behind 11 points early in the fourth quarter, the Bengals had to throw. Brat has endured this kind of criticism for years and I've contributed because I've been a run freak ever since the Joe Morris Giants made Phil Simms a Hall of Fame candidate.

And yet Brat has been kind enough to still treat me civilly, but I also don't think he has been a pass-happy maniac. He and Carson Palmer have won too many games for him to get that label.

I thought they won the first three games this year in large measure because he hung with the run as long as he did. Johnson's 19 carries in Pittsburgh even though he got just 2.5 yards per carry were a thing of beauty and was a reason the deficit stayed 17-14 and gave them a chance to win.

Whether they bailed early on the running game last Sunday, who knows? But Lewis clearly wasn't happy with the consistency of the operation because he said some of those runs looked like they were going "to the prom."

But everyone knows you have to dance with who brung you, and Carson and Rudi have to be going steady to make this thing go.

Q: It alarms me to hear Rudi Johnson state maybe we are not as good as we think. In a sense he is correct but they are also not as bad as they think.

I feel they need to put the tough loss behind them and focus on Tampa Bay. When Marvin Lewis was hired the first thing he set out to do was change the attitude, which went a long way in helping the Bengals win games. What type of attitude do you expect the Bengals to have after a blowout loss? What type of attitude do you feel they should have? The loss to New England can either make them better or worse; perhaps it is up to them.

Maybe they need to keep things in perspective and not get to high on winning and too low on losing.
**--Sean S., Uniontown, PA

SEAN:** I love that attitude. Love it. That is exactly what Lewis brought. In the old country club days of the Paul Brown Spa and Health Club, Sunday would have been met with a ho-hum-we're-still-3-and-1-and-we-pick-up-our-checks-tomorrow.

Give Rudi credit.

"Maybe we're not as good as we think we are."


It sounds like Marvin himself.

The NFL season is long and tough and you've got to keep reminding yourself what it takes to get to the end. It's not all press clippings and SportsCenter blurbs and billboards and Rudi had the guts to say it.

The Bengals are a good team that had a bad day. The great teams are those that can turn bad days into reminders to never let it happen again. Or at least just every so often.

Like what the Patriots did to the Bengals a week after Denver made them look so bad at home. Now the Bengals get to see if they can repeat what those traveling band of cool, seasoned hit men did from New England and bounce back with a win on the road.

Until then, you have to remember to be humble.

"Maybe we aren't as good as we think we are."

I'd like to hear that sound bite again.

Q: I was very excited to see Antonio Chatman in the Bengals uniform on Sunday. I was very disappointed with his performance. No catches. The one time he was open, Carson missed him by a mile.

Is he all right, or was he pressed into service too early? Was it a case of not working with Carson? I really thought he was a very good receiver when he was with the Packers. Can you comment please? Am I overly worried?**--Dale, Cincinnati, OH

Yeah, it's hard to make a call after one game. You have to remember that the guy has barely practiced in pads because he hurt his groin on the first weekend of training camp. In fact, last week was his first full week of work.

I worry about his size at 5-8 and if Palmer is going to be able to find him. But Brett Favre found him 49 times last season against defenses that knew he was throwing it all the time, so it looks like they've got a good young player. And Palmer talked him up after working with him and other Bengals receivers back in July on the Coast.

Talk about a change of pace. After getting 6-1, 6-2, 200-pounders in your face all day, then suddenly you have to cover a water bug.

But Chatman needs time to work his way in. That's a long time to be on the shelf.

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