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Lewis: Can't hide it

The last time the Bengals played the Chiefs at home, the then Chad Johnson guaranteed a win over the 9-0 Chiefs in 2003 and it came to pass. The Chiefs, far from undefeated, are here for the season finale Dec. 28 against a Bengals team that can't guarantee there won't be major changes next year.

"I'm really not speaking to who we're playing," said Chad Ocho Cinco, who predicted "I'm telling you, we're going to win (the last three games)."

"I'm really not speaking to who we're playing," he said. "I'm speaking on us a a team in the last three.

"There are reasons for our record. Not to make those excuses, but they're visual to the naked eye. I'm sure some of those things will be cleaned up and fixed. We have needs in areas which I'm sure will be addressed in the offseason. I don't know what those are particulalry. Every team has needs. Other than that I think we'll come back as the Bengals of old, what people are used to seeing."

Head coach Marvin Lewis agreed that finishing strong won't hide next year's needs.

"I know we've got to get better," Lewis said. "I think that's been evident. You can't hide it. If we win three games or not, it's not going to hide that. There are still things that need to be better. Better players. Better coaching. We have to get better. That's not going to mask that. It makes us feel better about it, but it's still not going to change what's on my mind. There are a lot of areas, but I'm not going to get into that."

Lewis said he's confident that he and the organzation are on the same page when it comes to upgraging personnel and providing resources.

But he also wouldn't comment on Bengals president Mike Brown's observation last month that Lewis and the coaching staff are doing a good job teaching. It is generally assumed that Lewis is going to be back for a seventh season in '09 and that's how he's talking. But he's offering no clue on his staff.

"Guys have really coached their butt off and I appreciate Mike's thoughts," Lewis said. "But a coach told me a long time ago as a young coach, when the season isn't going very good, when you're not winning as much as you'd like, you probably do a better job. You don't realize it at the time you're doing a lot of things better than you ever have because every single moment, every single play is so important to you. You can't let it go down the drain."

In the debate of talent vs. coaching, Lewis said this team has fewer good players than the '05 AFC North champs because "I don't think some of our good players work like they did in '05." But he also said it's a league of parity.

"Talent is spread evely across the league, pretty much," Lewis said. "It's what we do as coaches becauase we're responsible for it, too, and I'm responsible for it, too, as players to give opportunity for them to get better."

INJURY UPDATE: Safety Chinedum Ndukwe and tight end Ben Utecht, both with plantar fasciitis (foot), were limited Wednesday at practice. Runnning back Chris Perry (groin) returned full go. Running back Kenny Watson was out but Lewis is hopeful he can go. But he's not very certain about left tackle Levi Jones (back) also out Wednesday. (Wednesday Injury Report)

BREAKUP? They go together like cheese and coneys, the river and Labor Day, and black stripes and orange, right?

Chad Ocho Cinco (612) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (507) have combined for more than 1,100 catches and it would be hard to picture the Bengals offense without both of them. Remember, they had already played for a year at Oregon State before the Bengals took Ocho Cinco in the second round and Houshmandzadeh in the seventh.

With Houshmandzadeh reiterating he thinks the duo is going to be broken up this year one way or the other as heads into free agency, The Ocho reflected before Wednesday's practice.

"It could be. I'm not sure how it's going to go," Ocho Cinco said. "I think the fans and everyone else, including myself, I would love for him or I to stay. Whichever way it works out. It's been a long road. It would be some what of a bitter divorce. He's been a big help. It would be kind of funny seeing someone else on the opposite side of me and I'm sure the same for him."

Houshmandzadeh was his typical blunt self Wednesday, the day after his Pro Bowl snub despite the third most catches in the NFL (92) and the most third-down catches with 31.

"If I'm in the AFC next year," he said, "I've got a lot to take out on people."

Kennard McGuire, Houshmandzadeh's agent, had no comment Wednesday about his client's situation. It's believed that the sides tested the water several months ago but since there doesn't seem to be any action the gulf must have been wide.

Houshmandzadeh said last month he doesn't think the Bengals are going to use the franchise tag on him to keep him in Cincinnati, a one-year offer of the top five paid receivers in the league that would give the Bengals the right to match any offer and get a first- and third-round pick if they didn't.

With the working number somewhere between $9-10 million, Houshmandzadeh admits he wouldn't mind getting the lump sum. But after seeing the Bengals use the tag on defensive end Justin Smith for a year before letting him walk and anticipating they'll do the same with right tackle Stacy Andrews this year, he doesn't like the one-and-done aspect.

"It would be cool, but it wouldn't be cool," Houshmandzadeh said. "You just want to know what is going to happen (long-term)."

He also said he hasn't thought about being a free agent in 2010, the season that may not have a salary cap pending the collective bargaining agreement negotiations.

"That's hard. You've got to make it. Football is such a violent spot," he said.

And, he says he and The Ocho are the best tandem in the league.

"If you look at it, the successful teams year in and year out have two good receivers and for whatever reason, we're the two best receivers," he said. "People won't say it, but if you put a workout together and saw all the receivers, we're probably the best. For whatever reason we're not playing like it.

"He's going to do well put in the right situation and the same for me. If everything is right, I'm comfortable here. If it works out, it works out. Everyone knows the variables."

The variables, of course, are dollars and cents. Houshmandzadeh joked that "The more games we win, the less money Mr. Brown has to pay the draft picks."

Houshmandzadeh and The Ocho are keeping quiet on the specifics, but they've made it pretty clear they think there are problems on offense.

"I have my ideas," Houshmandzadeh said, "but I don't play perfect every game myself."

FREEDOM RING: Safety Chris Crocker, a third-round pick of the Browns in 2003, was thrilled to hear Lewis say his outing last Sunday was as good as any by a safety during Lewis' six seasons in Cincinnati. "Thank you very much," he said, while pointing out the club has given him more freedom than at any point in his career.

Crocker also said he thought the appoinment of Phil Savage as general manager ended his three seasons in Cleveland. He had been drafted by the previous regime.

OPT OUT: Rookie wide receiver Jerome Simpson said he was told he was inactive Sunday because the team was short on special teams and defense.

Ocho Cinco
DEEP SIX: Ocho Cinco said Wednesday he's not upset he wasn't voted to his sixth straight Pro Bowl.

"It's time for something new," he said, and allowed he's accomplished everything "but getting a ring," and that's his focus.

But The Ocho does think that Houshmandzadeh should have gone to Hawaii again simply because he has put together what looks to be another 100-catch, 1,000-yard season without Carson Palmer for 10 games.

"He should be in it a lot more than others," Ocho Cinco said. "Andre Johnson had a great year. Brandon Marshall. But none of them have been able to do what T.J. has done under the circumstances here. He should be the first guy to go regardless of what those guys have done. They had their starting quarterbacks. They've had injuries, but no injuries as severe as we've suffered and T.J. has managed to play at a very high level.

"I've done Hawaii over and over and over. I've done the Hawaii thing. I've done the record book thing," The Ocho said. "It's time for something new and the only thing I have left to do is win a ring. People continue to forget that. I've done all I can as a receiver. I set goals for myself. I've met all those goals but one and my window of opportunity is getting smaller and smaller. I want a ring by any means necessary."

When asked if he could win a ring with the Bengals, he just stared without saying anything. But if he's going to embark on another controversial offseason, he indicated he'll only be making noise with agent Drew Rosenhaus as he globe trots to England and Africa.

"I won't even be in the country, so you guys won't have to worry about my mouth at all," he said. "Drew? Yeah, he will."

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