Johnson hopes confidence is catchy

11-21-01, 5:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Jon Kitna says the Bengals have to win five of their next seven. Rookie wide receiver Chad Johnson says they will win five of the next seven. Starting Sunday in Cleveland and then the next week against cousin Keyshawn's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"We've got the 'Mouth of the South' back in the game plan," said Johnson, the Miami, Fla., product looking to make his return against the Browns' team he broke his left collarbone last month.

"We're going to get it done. That's part of my game," Johnson said. "I talk. That's what I'm going to do Sunday. We've got Tampa in the crib (at home). We're going to beat Keyshawn. He won't catch any balls. And I'm telling you, five out of the seven we've got left and we'll be in the first round of the playoffs. If nobody likes it, tell them to come see me."

Johnson thought he could have played last week against the Titans after his first week of practice and disagreed with the decision to inactivate him after some intense lobbying. But after watching Johnson take 16 of the 20 team snaps during Wednesday's practice, receivers coach Steve Mooshagian pronounced him good to go barring a relapse.

"I felt good last week," Johnson said. "I did chicken wing one ball (last Wednesday), but I got better as the week went on and Saturday I ran well.

I wanted to go because this is the stretch run. But they thought it was in my best interests to keep me out, so fine."

Johnson got hurt putting the exclamation point on his coming out party back on Oct. 14 in the 24-14 win over the Browns. Johnson had a career-high five catches for 68 yards, with three coming on third down. Johnson hurt himself on a 16-yard completion to the Browns 9 under the Cleveland coverage and he broke his collarbone when he rolled on the ground making the catch. The Bengals scored three plays later on Corey Dillon's five-yard run to make it 21-7.

"He needs to get back his game pace, of playing some snaps on a row," Mooshagian said. "As far as speed and catching and getting hit, he got hit a few times today and bounced up. Last week he was protecting himself. He was borderline. There's been none of that. He's much better. He's got fresh legs. That's for sure."

Johnson says he want to make those legs work and catch a deep ball.

"What's our longest catch? Forty-one (yards), right?" Johnson asked. "I'm going to get one longer than that pretty soon."

Darnay Scott, the man who has that 41-yard catch, didn't practice Wednesday because of painful bruised ribs. LeBeau said he doesn't expect him to laugh too much because of the pain, but he thinks he'll be able to play.

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