With head coach Marvin Lewis indicating that running back Giovani Bernard (knee) is good to go for the first time since Sept. 30 in Sunday's game against the Saints at Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) even though he was limited all week, here are a few numbers from the five games they played in 2014 when wide receiver A.J. Green didn't have a catch because of injury.
During a stretch they went 3-1-1, Bernard had a career-high 137-yard game, a 90-yard game and averaged 4.3 per his 76 carries. Jeremy Hill had a 147-yarder and went 4.8 per pop. With Green (toe) out Sunday, Bernard and running back Joe Mixon team up for just the third time this season. By the time Mixon came back from arthroscopic knee surgery following the second game, Bernard was out with a sprained knee. It looks like the bye week sped up some things.
"We add another good player in the mix. Lose one and gain one. Have to feel good about that," Lewis said after Friday's walk through. "He feels better each day. He's had a productive week, seemed to fit in and feel good about things each day. I think having Monday was great. It was an advantage for a guy like Gio as he works his way back. A little bit of going out and getting used to being out on the football field again and out there within the offense. The little work he got on Monday and to work through the week can be good."
But wide receiver Josh Malone couldn't hide his frustration. After playing just 59 snaps and getting four targets and one catch and tuning up for a bigger role this week with Green out, Malone suffered a hamstring injury Thursday and was ruled out Friday. That leaves them with rookie Auden Tate as the seventh-rounder figures to make his debut as the fifth healthy receiver. The four expected active receivers other than Tyler Boyd have combined for 18 catches.
With right guard Alex Redmond (hamstring) ruled doubtful Friday, it looks like he'll miss his first game the week rookie center Billy Price returns from his foot injury suffered 19 snaps into the second game. That may mean Trey Hopkins, who filled in for Price, now fills in for Redmond. He made 12 starts at right guard last season.
So the only pre-game question is if former Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, signed a few days ago, is active for the Saints. Lewis' inactive list figures to be Green, Redmond, Malone, linebackers Vontaze Burfict (hip) and Nick Vigil (knee), slot corner Darquze Dennard (neck) and tight end Tyler Kroft (foot).
WEATHER KNOLL: Bengals equipment manager Adam Knollman is preparing for a kick-off temperature of 43 degrees under partly cloudy skies, a negligible wind of about four degrees and no rain. That doesn't look like it's going to be any kind of advantage for the hosts. According to profootballreference.com, the Saints are 3-2 in games between 44 and 41 degrees during the 13 seasons of head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. No problem for Brees. In those five games he's got a 100.8 passer rating and 70 completion percentage. No, it's not this year's 120.6 and 76.3, respectively, but it still gets you to Canton.
LOOK BACK:Both Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer have bested Brees and the Bengals' Nov. 19, 2006 win in New Orleans is truly remarkable. The Saints rolled up 595 yards and Brees went off for what is still a career-high 510 yards (second most against the Bengals behind only Phil Simms' 513), but lost the only way they could in a 31-16 Cincy victory.
Brees threw two end-zone picks to safeties Madieu Williams and Kevin Kaesviharn when the Saints drove inside the Bengals 10 and when they got in there again Bengals right end Justin Smith dropped running back Deuce McAllister for a one-yard loss on third-and-one from the 5 to force John Carney's field goal on the third snap of the fourth quarter. That tied it at 10 and the fun was just beginning.
In a span of less than three minutes, Palmer hooked up with wider receiver Chad Johnson for TD passes of 60 and four, as well as a 48-yard bomb, to give the Bengals a sudden 24-10 lead with less than eight minutes left. Then in the first defensive series of his life, rookie safety and special teams maven Ethan Kilmer went 52 yards with a pick-six of Brees with 6:14 left. Johnson ended up with 190 yards, giving him the NFL record of 450 yards in consecutive games.
It's another example where November has been a good month for Lewis. That win scratched the Bengals back to 5-5 and ignited a four-game winning streak that put them at 8-5 and needing just one win in the last three games to secure a second straight play-off berth. They didn't get it when one of the streakiest Bengals team ever ended the season out of the '06 hunt with three straight losses.
There have been some huge PBS wins in November under Lewis. In '03 they beat the 9-0 Chiefs, in '09 they bracketed the month by securing a sweep of the division with wins over Baltimore and Cleveland, in '12 they began a 7-1 finish to reach the postseason with a win over the defending Super Bowl champion Giants and in '15 they prevailed on a Thursday night in convincing fashion over Johnny Manziel's Browns to become the AFC North's first 8-0 team ever.
NO CHANGE: The Bengals defense is beat up and Saints quarterback Drew Brees is on a historic pace. But neither Lewis nor offensive coordinator Bill Lazor plan to let that impact what the Bengals offense does.
"His job is to score points. Offense's job is to score points, defense's job is to get the ball back to the offense," said Lewis of Lazor. Lewis says it's not a time of possession thing but a points thing.
"It doesn't matter how you do it, but can't win the game if you don't have more points than the other team," Lewis said. "You've got to score points. I'll take nine touchdowns. That's what we want. We want to score points. That's the important part. Our offense has to be productive and continue to score points. The quarterback has to continue to play and do his thing. Stay in rhythm."