With WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict set to make his fifth NFL start in Sunday's game against the Steelers at sold-out Paul Brown Stadium (8:20 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5), he's on track to set a Bengals rookie record.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, middle linebacker Armegis Spearman holds the club record for most starts by an undrafted rookie when he made 11 for the 2000 Bengals. Left tackle Kevin Sargent is the only other college free agent rookie to start as many as half the team's games since the 1970 merger when he made eight in place of injured future Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz in 1992.
Sargent, out of Eastern Washington, came out of a draft that had 12 rounds. Both Spearman, from Mississippi, and Burfict, out of Arizona State, were pursued after the seventh and last round.
Both backers also got their shots because of early season-ending injuries. Spearman got the call when Brian Simmons tore knee cartilage off the bone on the last play of the third quarter during the first regular-season game in PBS against Cleveland on Sept. 10, 2000. Almost 12 years to the day, Thomas Howard tore his ACL last month during a blitz in practice.
Burfict has quickly adjusted to a position he never played before Howard got hurt. A lifelong middle backer, Burfict led the team in tackles for the second time this season in Cleveland last Sunday with 11, the third time he's hit double figures.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Steelers coach Mike Tomlin ruled out two starters from Sunday's game when he shelved strong safety Troy Polamalu and right tackle Marcus Gilbert.
» Denver's Peyton Manning moved past Cincinnati's Andy Dalton for the AFC top spot in fourth-quarter passing Monday night when he staged a comeback remarkable even for him. Manning is tied with Chicago's Jay Cutler for the NFL lead with a 118.4 fourth-quarter passer rating. Dalton is second in the AFC and third in the NFL during the fourth quarter at 113.5 on 42-for-60 passing at 70 percent for 585 yards with six TDs and three interceptions. The two meet for the first time when the Broncos come to PBS on Nov. 4.
» The Bengals are referring to Sunday night as "Orange Out," with fans urged to wear orange. Orange towels are to be handed out at the gates as long as supplies last.
» A lot of people are going to be watching. Sunday Night Football is the highest-rated prime-time program for the 2012-13 TV season and it's off to the highest-rated start to an NFL prime-time package in 13 years.