Updated: 9-13-02, 10:05 a.m.
JohnsonThree decades ago when he went to Cleveland, Isaac Curtis wanted the ball.
He still wants it with the Bengals poised to travel to The Lake this weekend. He wants the ball that Chad Johnson catches to break his 23-year-old Bengals record of 7,101 career receiving yards. Given that Johnson needs 82 yards and he's averaging 78 yards in the six games he's played the Browns with quarterback Carson Palmer, Curtis may have to wait another week.
But he won't wait in giving Johnson advice on Wednesday's plan to jump into Cleveland's notorious dangerous lair of loyalty known as "The Dawg Pound" if he scores a touchdown.
"That won't be a good idea," says Curtis, who almost got knocked out walking out of the tunnel carrying his helmet before a game by an apple fired from The Pound.
Ike and Chad spinning a record a fly pattern from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Johnson is unmoved.
"It doesn't mean much. I respect all records that I do achieve," Johnson said. "It says a lot about what I've accomplished and what I've worked for since I was young. But my focus from this point on in my career is getting a ring. That's it. I could care less about the numbers. I've done all I can do. My goal coming in here was to get to the Pro Bowl. I've been there (four times). My goal behind that was getting a couple of records, setting my name in the foundation of this organization and I've done that. My goal now is getting to Arizona. Period. And I will do it by all means necessary."
Curtis, the first No. 85 that no one could cover deep for the bulk of the 1970s, is happy this No. 85 is going to be the guy that passes him. Curtis calls it just right. He sees himself as R and B and breezy and easy, while Johnson is Hip-Hop and bursting with pure energy.
"It's a generational thing and that's OK; I like it," Curtis says. "I was more Marvin Gaye. Smooth. Chad is like the music now, and that's great. That's his generation. I love watching the guy play. He brings so much excitement to the game. He's fun. I want the ball that he catches to get the record."
And it just may be Sunday. Johnson is trying to jack up his play against the AFC North these days. He has led the AFC in yards receiving the past four years and he's had 11 100-yard days since Palmer became the starting quarterback in 2004.
But only three of those games have been against divisional foes, only one in the last two years, and none against the Steelers. Two of his 21 career 100-yard games have come against Pittsburgh, but none with Palmer, and eight of the 21 have come in the division.
The last North 100-yard game came against the Browns on his 123-yarder in Cleveland last year, but Johnson knows his most memorable days against the Browns are because he got just 37 yards in 2005 after sending the Cleveland secondary bottles of Pepto-Bismol and because safety Brian Russell rang his bell last year.
"I haven't done much against the Browns," Johnson said after practice Wednesday. "I haven't done much against the Steelers, either. I'm not sure what it's due to. I think it's familiarity with our offense and I do what I can do. I'm looking forward to helping us out against our divisional opponents. My numbers haven't really helped us."
But leaping into The Dawg Pound may not help the Bengals, either, according to "The Big Dawg" himself, John Thompson. Thompson is the guy who wears the mask and No. 98 jersey in the front of The Pound and he has become a symbol of the Browns fans rabid commitment to their team.
He's also talked to Johnson before games and likes the guy and what he brings to the rivalry. In fact, last year Johnson went over to Thompson before the game and set up a leap, but he didn't score despite the 123 yards.
Thompson can't exactly guarantee his safety.
"Maybe I'll fake like I'm going to catch him and then when he jumps get out of the way," Thompson joked Wednesday from Cleveland. "No, I wouldn't do anything to him, but there are some guys around me that might. I'd have to make it look good and maybe just hit him on the back a few times so it doesn't look like I'm coddling him."
Thompson thinks Johnson is the best receiver the Browns see in the division year after year, and Johnson returned the compliment.
"He likes our gig; he said he likes our dedication," Thompson said. "That was real nice. He didn't have to say that. He told me to keep barking. But I hope he doesn't (jump in). That means we held him down."
The Browns could never hold down Curtis, especially when Paul Brown was the coach of the Bengals. Don't remind Thompson, 46, a season-ticket holder for 31 years, so he knows all about the first No. 85.
"Isaac Curtis murdered us. Right from the day we were supposed to draft him and instead we picked (Steve) Holden," Thompson said. "So yeah, we know all about Isaac Curtis and all that stuff."
Thompson also knows all about Brown because his father remembered the days when Brown coached Cleveland to 11 title games before owner Art Modell fired him in a dispute over a variety of topics that included running back Jimmy Brown.
"He always said they got rid of the wrong Brown," Thompson said. "So whenever the Browns played the Bengals he always rooted for the Bengals because of Paul Brown. We always had it out over that."
Curtis figured it out real early that beating Cleveland meant a lot more to the old man than just a win, and Brown figured out just as early that Curtis was special.
"My first start was in Cleveland my rookie year. It wasn't planned; Chip Myers pulled a muscle," Curtis said. "I got in there, caught some long ones, and I never came out of the lineup again."
The Bengals lost, 17-10, on Oct. 7, 1973, but Curtis caught three balls for 80 yards that included a 60-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Then with the Bengals and Steelers battling for the AFC Central title in the next-to-last game of that season, Curtis wrecked the Browns with five balls for 117 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-17 victory.
In the '74 opener Curtis gouged the Browns for 117 again in a 30-point win at Riverfront and when Cleveland held him to one catch later in the year it was for an 18-yard touchdown in a 10-point win. Then in Brown's last season as coach in '75, Curtis put up a 123-yard game in another opener, a 24-17 victory.
"It would be great if he did it in Cleveland," Curtis said. "I'm surprised it's lasted this long with guys catching 80, 90 balls a year. The most catches I had in a season is 47."
Asked if there was one thing he'd want as a player that Johnson has, Curtis said, "Get as many catches as he does."
As he unveiled his Dawg Pound celebration, Johnson noticed the media was a bit doubtful.
"What, you don't think I'll do it?" Johnson asked. "That's entertainment."
Asked about possible bodily harm, he said, "They'll get thrown out. I'll have pads on," and Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, who played in those last four PB-Browns games, said, "Keep your helmet on."
"After I got hit with the apple, I always kept my helmet on top of my head coming out of that tunnel up there," Curtis said.
He wasn't the only guy Wednesday urging no.
"I hope he doesn't do it. Those are some crazy fans. They would tear Chad apart," Palmer said.
AndersonO-LINE OASIS: Give up one sack against the Ravens and you have to figure you're playing with seasoned dinosaurs on the offensive line. Think again, Jackie Slater breath. The Bengals offensive line played the fourth quarter of Monday night's game with four players that had 15 NFL starts or less for a total of 91.
Compare that to the second week of last year, when the Bengals went into the Cleveland game with 448 career starts. And that's the day it all began to change because center Rich Braham suffered a career-ending knee injury and the Bengals would be without his 141 starts. When left tackle Levi Jones went down the next month with a knee injury in Tampa, the Bengals lost his 66.
"This is not the offensive line of '05," said Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson of the unit that paved the way for the best passing, receiving and rushing Bengals seasons of all time. "Don't compare it to '05. We don't have the game experience."
Anderson, whose 169 starts were missing the entire second half, chalks up Monday's outing to the coaching of Paul Alexander and assistant Bob Surace.
"They're going to get good coaching from Paul and the players (in '05) took it to the next level," Anderson said, citing their experience. "The faster this group comes together, the better this team will be. ... We feel like if we can play at (our) high level then (the quality) will be high."
Anderson took himself out of Monday's game because he didn't think his balky foot would allow him to play as well as his backup, fifth-year player Scott Kooistra. Kooistra has never started an NFL game at tackle, but Monday marked his 55th game with the Bengals in a variety of roles and he performed well enough against Ravens sack leader Trevor Pryce that Anderson said Kooistra received the internal Offensive Player of the Week award.
"He knows what he's doing," said center Eric Ghiaciuc. "He's confident, he's strong, and he's got an athletic big body. And Willie's not a bad guy to learn from."
Anderson practiced fully Wednesday and thinks he can go Sunday.
But the line isn't without some bit of drama. Even though Jones says he's healthy, the man who was an alternate Pro Bowler on that '05 line isn't starting. In fact, Jones and defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene were the only Bengals not to play Monday.
Why the Bengals are sitting a guy they can't trade or cut for salary cap reasons because of that recent $40 million extension hasn't really been answered, although head coach Marvin Lewis said he expects Jones to start at some point this season.
Before that, Jones asked, "How can I stress about something they want to happen? ... I have no idea (what is going on). When you find out, let me know." He says "obviously" the club wants Andrew Whitworth to play and not him and "everyone would rather play."
PalmerCHEATING HEART? Carson Palmer joked Wednesday that if the Patriots are guilty of stealing signals illegally through the use of a camera, the penalty should be forfeiting the Oct. 1 game here Monday night. But both he and head coach Marvin Lewis think it's a serious issue.
"Hopefully there's a harsh enough penalty that it's not worth it to cheat and try to get an advantage that you're not allowed to get," Palmer said. "I can't see it going on much longer, because I hope the commissioner is just as harsh on them as he's been on individual players for making mistakes."
Lewis is a member of the NFL's Competition Committee, so the subject isn't new to him and it's a big concern.
"If it's true, they took it to a different level," Lewis said. "You always guard against those kind of things. Offensively, with the coach-to-quarterback communicator, you've taken the ability to steal plays away, which is what we were trying to get for the defense as well, but not everyone agreed on the system.
"You can still look at defensive signals and have an idea of what is being called. We do things at the line of scrimmage with both offense and defense, which has always been part of football. There are certain ways legislated as ethical and certain ways that aren't."
Because the committee couldn't agree on an equitable manner of placing a communicator in the helmet of a defensive player like they did for all quarterbacks, a plan wasn't adopted this past year.
The major stumbling block is what would happen when the designated defensive player gets hurt or comes off the field because of down and distance.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
Browns head coach Romeo Crennel told the Cincinnati media in a conference call Wednesday that Derek Anderson is going to start Sunday at quarterback against the Bengals.
Kicker Shayne Graham (hip) was dressed when practice began Wednesday. and Lewis said he's fine even though he didn't practice. Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh (knee) and safety Chinedum Ndukwe (hamstring) didn't practice but they figure to play.
Wide receiver Antonio Chatman (hamstring), who has barely practiced this season, was in uniform and went through a full practice. Cornerback Deltha O'Neal (knee) was limited.
Eric Steinbach, the Browns left guard, didn't have to wait long to get his first shot at the team that drafted him in the second round in 2003. He started 63 games for the Bengals until the club decided it couldn't give its tackles $40 million extensions and its left guard $7 million per year, which is what Cleveland gave Steinbach on the first day of free agency.
Steinbach's closest friends on the Bengals are right end Justin Smith and right tackle Scott Kooistra and after joking that Kooistra is "weak," Steinbach revealed his advice for first-round pick Joe Thomas working at left tackle against Smith while talking to the Cincinnati media via conference call Wednesday.
"After watching film, Joe has already had to realize Justin doesn't give up," Steinbach said. "He's obviously one of those high-motor guys that keeps humming every play. You know Justin's not going to quit. My advice to (Thomas) was he's going to be coming off the ball and coming hard, and he's going to be going all four quarters. So just get ready for a full game. Justin's the type of player that he's not going to lay down."
Steinbach, who started all but two of his 65 games in Cincinnati, missed virtually all of training camp after he fell on his knee during a workout in the Browns indoor facility. But he said the knee held up well in Sunday's 34-7 loss to Pittsburgh.
He admitted it felt odd watching tape of the Bengals defensive linemen and getting ready to play tackle John Thornton.
"Tell those guys to put their hard hats on," Steinbach said.
Palmer on his inability to hook up with No. 3 receiver Tab Perry: "My fault ... I've overthrown him a couple of times. ... Looking back at the game film, he ran a great comeback on one play and I threw too far inside. I rushed a curl route and threw him too far outside. There was another play on another route I threw too far outside. The problem has been me. I've missed him. He's run great routes and done a great job. I need to get the ball in his hands."
* More proof that tight end Nate Lawrie didn't get cut* because of his face mask penalty while blocking on a kick return early in the fourth quarter Monday night. It was done to make room for wide receiver Antonio Chatman. They signed Lawrie to their practice squad Thursday.