* T.J. Houshmandzadeh liked what he saw the past two weeks.*
It's not exactly Barack Obama raising his right hand in front of 2 million on the Capitol steps. But when T.J. Houshmandzadeh does it, the entire nation of Bengaldom has nothing to fear but fear itself.
"Right hand to God. You know I'd tell you the truth," Houshmandzadeh says. "I didn't know the Bengals had so many good players. I was shocked. I was genuinely shocked with the amount of players on this team that can play. It's really unbelievable."
After helping coach his old team during six practices in the last two weeks as an intern, Houshmandzadeh approaches sacrilegious grounds when he says this offense can surpass the numbers of his 2005 group that pulled off a brazen assault on the club record book. Those are the happy-hunting grounds of Bengals history, when Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer swashbuckled the Bengals offense to a No. 6 ranking, still their highest since a strike season of 28 years ago.
"They can be better," Houshmandzadeh says of the 2015 team. "They have better players."
When the dust cleared in that '05 season, Palmer set the Bengals' single-season record with 32 touchdown passes, wide receiver Chad Johnson broke the single-season receiving record with 1,432 yards, running back Rudi Johnson took the team rushing record with 1,458 yards, and Houshmandzadeh's 956 yards were just 44 yards shy of making him and Johnson the club's first 1,000-yard receiving duo, which they pulled off the next two seasons.
That '05 club is one of the watershed teams in Bengals history, right there with the first playoff team in 1970, the AFC championship teams in 1981 and 1988, and the 2011 team that still made the playoffs in a rebuilding year with a new nucleus that would fuel four straight post-season runs.
The '05 AFC North champions ended 14 straight years without a winning record and started a run of six playoff appearances in 10 seasons with an explosive brew of emotion, swagger and talent that were summed up in the first half of the Wild Card loss to the Steelers. They exploded to a 10-0 lead, but Palmer's ACL injury on the second snap frayed the nerves and the game plan in a game best remembered for Johnson's half-time implosion on the way to a 31-17 upset loss at home.
Houshmandzadeh realizes these Bengals are built differently on offense these days. But he thinks they can put up better numbers. And he may be right. The only team in the last three decades that has scored more points than the '05 club is the team in 2013 and most of those guys are still in place.
"We were better at wide receiver, better at quarterback, but Andy (Dalton) is good. I like him," Houshmandzadeh says. "He's got a lot more weapons and this is just a different offense. We got down by 10 points and we were like, 'Here we go.' We were seven-step drop and they're more balanced. It's just different."
And he doesn't forget that '05 offensive line, anchored by a pair of first-round tackles in Willie Anderson and Levi Jones, a group that still has the second fewest sacks allowed in a Bengals season with 21.
"At the skill positions, obviously I'll go with myself and Chad," Houshmandzadeh says. "They have more depth than we had. I think our wide receivers were better, or it's very comparable. Offensive line is about a push. We had Willie and Levi. That's tough. They're dynamic at the running back position. They've got great tight end play. They have more weapons, where we relied on myself, Chad, Rudi and No. 9 (Palmer). That's it."
The Bengals don't have anyone like the late Chris Henry, a No. 3 receiver who was a flat-out touchdown maker. In that rookie year of '05, six of his 31 catches went for touchdowns and four of them were for at least 25 yards.
For that matter, the '15 team doesn't have a Houshmandzadeh, a No. 2 guy you can write in for 80 grabs and close to 1,000 yards. But he thinks Marvin Jones, with 10 TDs in 2013, and Mohamed Sanu, with 103 catches in the last 32 straight games, can come close.
"They're a combination," Houshmandzadeh says. "Marvin is sudden. Mo is big. A.J. is Chad in some cases and in some cases he's not. They're similar. He's not as quick as Chad, but he's bigger. They could put up numbers like me and Chad, but probably not."
That's because, in large part, he doesn't see the Bengals throwing it around the yard like they did in '05. Palmer threw it 509 times and while Dalton passed 586 times in that 2013 season, Houshmandzadeh doesn't see offensive coordinator Hue Jackson doing that. Last year running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard combined for 390 carries while Rudi Johnson (337) and Chris Perry (61) went for 398 in '05, but Hill didn't get into the lineup until later in the year last season.
In Jackson's first year calling plays for Dalton last season, Dalton threw it nearly 100 times fewer (482) with Hill only getting 222 carries in his rookie year. And it's the balance that Houshmandzadeh likes about this team.
"They have more guys to rely on and count on and that keeps the defense guessing," Houshmandzadeh says. "For them, it's about, 'What are they going to do?' With us, you knew what we were going to do, could you stop it, because we were going down the field.
"But we didn't have a Tyler Eifert, a Giovani Bernard. I don't even think we had a Jeremy Hill,' Houshmandzadeh says. "In that respect, they're better than us in certain spots and we're better than them at certain spots."
But after seeing them on the field, Houshmandzadeh won't be surprised to see them in certain spots in the club record book.
"You kind of play to your strength. Our strength was passing. Their strength is more balanced offense," Houshmandzadeh says. "Overall, I think they're probably better. We didn't have the depth."