Lewis seeks middle ground

Posted: 10:50 p.m.

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Lewis: Preparing for the "ultimate reality show"

Bengals fans have waited 15 years to make the playoffs. They'll have to wait a little longer to see how head coach Marvin Lewis prepares for them in what quarterback Jon Kitna calls "the ultimate reality show" that may not be all that real in Sunday's regular-season finale now dwarfed by the playoffs.

While Lewis gave plenty of hints Wednesday that he'll have no problems resting his regulars Sunday, his players didn't want to speculate on how much he'll pull back on a re-sodded grass field that threatens to be sloppy and difficult.

And, they didn't want to speculate on which team they'd get in the playoffs.

The Chiefs, if they beat the Bengals and the Steelers lose to visiting Detroit and the Chargers lose at Denver.

The Jaguars if the Bengals lose and the Patriots beat visiting Miami.

The Steelers if the Bengals just win or if the Patriots just lose.

"Who cares?" Kitna asked. "Especially in the AFC, to make the playoffs they've been doing something right for a long time. There's no slouches or easy games. There's nobody you'd rather play. It doesn't matter. The road is just one week at a time. The ultimate reality show."

But who knows if it will be a very real lineup for very really long in Kansas City? Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer's tweaked groin is at the top of a fairly lengthy injury list and the Arrowhead Stadium field is supposed to be in dastardly shape. The Chiefs finished re-sodding the middle of the field Wednesday after the rain chewed it up badly during the Christmas Eve win over the Chargers, and with rain forecast again it could get ugly quickly.

Lewis admitted Wednesday he is juggling some balls in the air on this one.

"We're in a situation where some of it we can control, but yet we're kind of between a rock and a hard place as far as the outcome of this football game, and making sure that we go into the next football game in as good a shape as we can," Lewis said. "We know we've got a home game. We've accomplished that. We won the division. And we're going to go play from there. Whichever team we play."

Lewis said Palmer is probable and is going to be ready for the game, but he also held him out of practice Wednesday while letting him throw on the side in a sweatsuit. Palmer says he can play (but he couldn't have Wednesday) and wants to play, but Lewis also insists he has the prerogative to get ready for the playoffs starting now.

"I think it's earned you the right to get your football team in the best shape, frame of mind ... whatever you think it's going to take to move forward and go on," Lewis said. "Somewhat unofficially, our first season is over. And we're trying to enter into the second season and begin that in as good a shape as we can, both mentally and physically. Execution, preciseness, tempo, intensity. Teams should have that right to go about it the way they see fit. At the end of it, you're judged on whether you win or lose, so you might as well try and do it the best way you feel your team needs to have it done."

But, just as clearly, Lewis doesn't want the hangover from last Saturday's 37-27 loss to Buffalo to linger.

"Our guys know what works for us, and what's good. We want to have that feeling," Lewis said. "There's no question it's important that we go about that and do that. I think they know. I can't tell you exactly what that is, but they know and we all know what that's going to be."

Kitna, one of a dozen playoff vets on the 53-man roster, knows.

"It's important for us to go out and play well and fix some of the things that happened to us last week," Kitna said. "But not at the detriment of next week's game. You have to be smart."

That could mean don't be too surprised if a lot of that injury list doesn't make it out to the field very much Sunday. That may all but preclude doubtful guys like running back Chris Perry (ankle) and defensive lineman Carl Powell (neck), as well as questionables such as cornerback Deltha O'Neal (knee), tight end Reggie Kelly (wrist), and linebacker Marcus Wilkins (hand). Even probable guys like left tackle Levi Jones (shoulder), running back Rudi Johnson (knee), and defensive tackle Shaun Smith (groin) may be nursed along. Only Smith practiced Wednesday.

And there are the guys who aren't injured but who could also use the rest, like right tackle Willie Anderson and center Rich Braham. And even though wide receiver Chad Johnson says he won't miss a play, is that the smart thing?

But some players just don't see Lewis backing off all that much.

"It's not in his character. I'll be surprised if we do," said linebacker Brian Simmons. "If guys are injured, that's different. I'm not the coach. Who knows what you've got to do? I know we're going to be in the playoffs and when you get into the playoffs the next team you play is the only one that matters. It doesn't mater what we did two games ago, or a game ago, or three games ago. It's going to be a week to week deal."

Rudi Johnson, who needs 60 yards for the Bengals' first 1,500-yard season, would like to get it, and hasn't been told he'll be sitting down.

"We're approaching it like a regular week," Anderson said. "We're told that we're playing the whole game, and we're ready to go in for a dogfight. And we all want to play the whole game."

Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil, who may be coaching the last of his 237 NFL games, thinks his guys will finish it off even if San Diego wins Saturday and the Chiefs know they're out of it.

"Last week, I thought we played very hard because we had to. It was a have-to-win and we beat a good football team that had just beaten the best team in football," said Vermeil of his club's win over a Chargers team that had just beaten the undefeated Colts. "This week we've got to play because we want to. I believe the kind of squad we have here — and the morale and the coaches here — will play hard because they want to, because it's important to them to have 10 wins, and if we don't make the playoffs it'll be determined by somebody else, not by us by not playing well."

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