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I got you

Larry Johnson

Updated: 7:25 p.m.

The Bengals are a win away from the AFC North title with one home game left, so wide receiver Chad Ochocinco has shelved the antics. He says they can only do it Sunday at home against Kansas City "if we can take care of business," and not suffer the foolish penalties he saw only on video games before last Sunday in San Diego.

And The Ocho has been revived by head coach Marvin Lewis' assurance to his team back on Monday that "I got you."

Usually that is something The Ocho says to the coaches before every game. Kind of short for "I got your back." The way Ochocinco recounted it, Lewis told the team no matter what it is, making a catch, a tackle, whatever, "I got you."

"That was cool," The Ocho said. "It got me hyped. He took my favorite line before the game and he used it on us? It's a good feeling. He had an awesome message Monday. 'I got you. I got you no matter what.' It was really cool to hear that from him. That's something I've always said. To hear the head coach tell his players he's got them no matter what, it's a really, really, really good feeling. To have that kind of confidence this week, based on that, we're ready to rock."

What it means is anybody's guess because Lewis wasn't saying.

"I've really got him." he said with a laugh. "That's between me and them. But I've got them, don't worry. We've had a little bit of a roller coaster. I've got them this week. I've got them starting today and all the way through. It's a whole big circle. The guys that have been here know what I meant when I said that."

Quarterback Carson Palmer believes it stems from preparation.

"It just means he's going to take care of us, get us fresh and ready to play on Sunday," Palmer said, but this is not a one-sentence subject.

In years past Lewis's players groused about the grind he would put them through, but they have been saying since October they notice he is listening to them more and practicing less.

"It's been a huge difference. I've been here for seven years with Coach, from his rookie year to now his seventh year in the league, and from my rookie year and now my seventh," Palmer said. "It's amazing. I've had a chance to watch him get better every year, be a better coach every year.

"Marvin's really gotten better with gauging our team, and a lot of it is because he knows our individual players. He knows when to back off, he knows when to put shoulder pads on, he knows when to hold us longer for meetings, and he knows when to get us out of practice earlier. And that's a head coach's main job, to get his team ready to play on Sundays. To have been here through Marvin's first day, first year to now seventh year, it's really cool to see how great of a coach he's becoming and how great of a coach he's become."

Lewis waves it all off and says he hasn't changed and that the players have selective memories. They only remember when it is easy. But when pressed, Lewis admitted in his Wednesday news conference that they have been on the field less. Largely because they are absorbing faster.

"I encourage the coaches that there are certain players that of a nine- or 10-play sequence of plays in practice, they don't need seven of those plays anymore," Lewis said. "They can get by with five of those plays, and we can get another player in there for four of those plays. I've pared those periods back. They used to be 11 or 12 plays, now they're down to nine plays. And that 10-minute individual period is now eight-and-a-half minutes, which used to be 12 minutes.

"So what I tell them is that 10 minutes today is going to go in eight-and-a-half. So things go faster. And that's what we have to do. We have to play fast, practice fast and be efficient. If we spend time repeating plays in order to get things right, then that's counter-productive to what we're doing. That's the challenge to them ... and if we don't have to repeat many, we're in pretty good shape. At this point in the year, that's how we should be doing it. I want them out of here, off their feet. I want them to have a chance."

But whatever, "I got you" means, it has at least one guy ready to go.

The Ocho also got fired up by another speaker this week: Carolyn Henry Glaspy. Chris Henry's mother made a lot of people feel better when she spoke at her son's funeral Tuesday.

"After hearing his mom talk, her speech was ... what, about being happy and about Chris being in a better place. That right there made me feel so much better," The Ocho said. "If the mom can handle it, then I know I can get myself together. That's what made me sort of upbeat this morning just remembering what she said and going out there and playing and continue to play for him. As far as I'm here, I'm going to make sure no one forgets 15."

The Ocho does have something planned in Henry's honor Sunday, but he won't say what.

SCOTT BACK, PEKO BACK: Bengals running back Bernard Scott says he'll play Sunday against the Chiefs and defensive tackle Domata Peko (knee) could after he works out on the field Wednesday for the first time since his Dec. 7 arthroscopic surgery. Safety Chris Crocker (ankle) also looks to be a question mark but other than that, head coach Marvin Lewis says the Bengals are as healthy as could be expected at this point in the season. 

Peko and Crocker, along with defensive tackle Tank Johnson (foot) and tight and J.P. Foschi didn't work. Foschi left to be with his wife as she expects their first child. 

Peko said before practice that he'll have his cleats on as he works on some defensive line drills with rehab trainer Nick Cosgray and Lewis said if the knee responds they'll ratchet him up for Friday's practice. Peko is anxious to get out there because he wants to help the Bengals clinch the AFC North title with a victory Sunday over the Chiefs for the home crowd. For what it's worth, Peko looked good getting out of a stance and hopping through ropes, but he also said, "I'm not going to do anything stupid. The target is still the last game."

HENRY RECOGNITION: Fans attending Sunday's game at Paul Brown Stadium receive a commemorative '15' decal in honor of the late Chris Henry and after coming back from the funeral in New Orleans on Tuesday, the Bengals have one more tangible emotional moment left to conquer: The club plans a video tribute prior to the National Anthem.

It's still up in the air if the game is going to be a sellout with about 2,500 tickets remaining. Going by the extension the Chargers got for Thanksgiving, an extension could be coming beyond Thursday's 1 p.m. deadline with Christmas on Friday.

SURACE NAMED: One of the many reasons that offensive line coach Paul Alexander thinks Bob Surace, his long-time assistant, is going to be a great head coach at Princeton is because "he functions so well on so little sleep."

He really won't be able to sleep now that he's going to finish out the Bengals season as well as begin to rebuild the Tigers in his own image as an All-Ivy center at the school from the late '80s. For example, the Bengals got back from San Diego on Monday morning at 2 a.m. and Surace went to work in his office for a little bit before getting back in about 6. Along with assisting the O-line, he works a week ahead on opponents and gives special teams coach Darrin Simmons the opposing alignments in practice.

"We need him now in the kind of season everybody hopes for and he deserves to enjoy it," Alexander said Wednesday. "He's got all the traits. Leadership. Big picture vision. Passion. He'll bring the toughness from the offensive line position to the program and that may be the biggest thing. He took a downtrodden program (Western Connecticut) and built it up and now that he's had eight years in graduate school at NFL U, he'll be even better."

LJ ON WAY: Running back Larry Johnson is playing it right down the middle as the Bengals get ready to play his old team, saying the focus is on the Bengals' attempt to clinch the division: "I haven't had the opportunity (to wear) the caps and T-shirts since my rookie year (2003). It would be fun to do it at home, in front of the fans. Hopefully we can celebrate a win."

Johnson, 30, is very appreciative of how the Bengals have treated him, but he doesn't expect to be back here next year with Cedric Benson having one year left on his deal and the emergence of rookie Bernard Scott. Besides, he feels like he can still be a bell cow.

"They did well without me," said Johnson, who signed Nov. 16. "I wouldn't expect them to keep me. Because they've been doing their thing and kind of grinding it out even before I got here against a lot of great teams. Cedric has done an excellent job against a lot of these big teams that we in the past being with the Chiefs have lost to. It's an opportunity to me to come back into that role I once was. I'm comfortable being here and helping Ced out."

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