Updated: 8 p.m.
Bengals rookie WILL backer Vontaze Burfict couldn't believe that his idol, Ray Lewis, plans to retire at the end of the season. But when he digested the news after Wednesday's practice, he smiled when told that it was he who dominated Lewis's last regular-season game last Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals beat Lewis's Ravens, 23-17 with the help of what the coaches charted as Burfict's 23 tackles for a final season take of 174. Lewis didn't play with his shoulder injury, but rest assured Burfict knew he was there. The picture he had taken with Lewis after the game may have meant as much as the 23 tackles.
"He told me 'Great game, great potential,' and that I was all over the field," Burfict said. "That meant a lot because I've looked up to him for so long."
Remember, Burfict was five years old when Lewis was drafted, so all he's ever known is Lewis being the linebacker to idolize if you're going to be a backer. When Burfict was a junior at Arizona State, he remembers that someone out there hooked him up on the phone with Lewis for a few minutes.
Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga had similar thoughts when he heard the news as he boarded the bus back from practice. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis had tried to hook them up in the last year or so, but Maualuga's schedule got cramped with the birth of his first child.
He also saw Lewis on Sunday, but before the game, gave him a quick hug, and Ray Lewis told him to have a good game and "play the game we play."
"I think there are a lot of linebackers in the country that look up to him and idolize his game," Maualuga said. "It was good to see him. He's done everything you could accomplish as a middle linebacker and beyond."
Lewis glowered off a wall in Maualuga's locker. His photo is on top of Lewis's list of "Survival Skills" that has been taped there for a few seasons.
"I feel he has a couple of more years," Maualuga said. "But when you know it's your time to call it quits, you know."
BLAST ZONE: With the Bengals going indoors for the second straight day Wednesday, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis practiced to the strains of Rage Against The Machine as they tuned for Saturday's decibel-fest (4:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) in Houston's Reliant Stadium.
Mindful of what the offense faced in last year's Wild Card game, head coach Marvin Lewis blasted the theme song of the Texans defense ("Bulls on Parade") during what was scheduled as a 90-minute workout in the University of Cincinnati bubble.
Early in practice, Green-Ellis, who felt his hamstring tighten on the first carry of last Sunday's pregame warmups, returned and was listed as limited. Safety Chris Crocker (thigh) was dressed and listed as limited. Backup safety Taylor Mays (hamstring) returned after missing Tuesday and was listed as limited, as was starting cornerback Terence Newman (groin) after he worked for the second straight day after missing last Sunday's game. The only player not working was backup right end Wallace Gilberry with an illness.
With Reliant's retractable roof expected to be closed again Saturday, the Bengals are gearing up for the swarm of noise that helped paralyze their offense last season. It will be recalled last season with Dalton struggling in the sea of sound, he got sacked four times, hit five other times, picked off three times, and had nine passes defensed while the Texans rung up eight tackles for loss.
Look for the Bengals to head back indoors Thursday morning with temperatures at 35 degrees before they board the plane Friday afternoon. Dalton laughed earlier this week when asked if it got as loud in Reliant when he quarterbacked his suburban Houston high school team in the building.
"No it wasn't as loud. Katy (High School) does have a pretty good following, but they were on my side at that point," he said.
While Dalton talked about the need to be on the same page with his offensive line and that Houston and Seattle are tossups for his loudest venues, Lewis talked about his team adjusting to the entire atmosphere. He thinks winning seven of the last eight games when all but the last one was a virtual must is a nice primer.
"I think the impressive part about Reliant Stadium last year was the pregame atmosphere. The game atmosphere is what it is. But to me the pregame atmosphere was one of the things that was impressive, and our guys have been through that now," Lewis said.
"It was not just like a regular Sunday afternoon game, even though we've played these (crucial) games since November and we knew that every one of them meant that if you don't win, chances are you make it hard to get to this point. But we've done a good job at just focusing in on the next play and the next play and the next play, and not worrying about the big picture, and it's going to be no different as we move forward now."
Rookies like Burfict are getting a crash course from the people who have been there.
"Our coach has been stressing that they're going to be very loud, but I just have to use them as my energy," Burfict said. "Every time they get loud, I have to feed off that. I can't get too into it, because if you get too into it, you're not doing your responsibility. For me, I just have to take some of that yelling that they're doing and channel it onto the field."
MARVIN SALUTES RAY:Lewis was there at the creation 17 NFL seasons ago.
Back in his first year as Ravens defensive coordinator and Baltimore drafted a future Hall of Fame middle linebacker in Ray Lewis late in the first round. Marvin Lewis, who coached Ray for his first six seasons, heard of his retirement as he stepped off the bus from Wednesday's practice.
"He's had a tremendous career, tremendous impact. His mentorship to other players, his leadership is hard to describe," Marvin Lewis said. "I had a chance to visit with him briefly before (Sunday's) game. I said to myself, 'He doesn't look a day older than when we drafted him.' "
The Ravens were at Paul Brown Stadium last Sunday for their 23-17 loss to the Bengals, but Ray Lewis, as he has for most of the season, didn't play as he tries to get his should right for Baltimore's playoff game against the Colts. Marvin Lewis said he had no inkling during their visit.
"No, no. From that standpoint I'm pretty sure it's a good decision for him," Marvin Lewis said. "A decision hard for him to make, but one he feels good about. I'm happy for him. It's disappointing for the game after what he's done."
Marvin said there are two qualities that separate Ray: "Just his drive to be the best and to empower others to be better."
He agreed that there won't be many more middle backers that play 17 seasons.
"It's a difficult position to play that long, never mind at such a high level," he said.
GAMER: Knowing the gamer that he is, Green-Ellis is expected to play after he showed up on Wednesday's injury report limited with the hamstring that tightened on him on the first carry of pregame. In true BenJarvusese learned at the feet of Bill Belichick, The Law Firm said a lot of nothing about his injury.
"I am confident in the rehab program things I'm going through. I'm taking it day by day going through the things they have me lined up doing. Go out there and see how it goes," Green-Ellis said after Wednesday's workout.
"I'm just sticking to whatever the rehab course is and process and going through those things. If my health is good enough to play, of course I'll be out there. If everything lines up as it needs to be I'll be out there."
The nice thing for the Bengals is in BJGE they get a veteran of the last AFC title game and Super Bowl. While playing for the Patriots he had 68 yards on 15 carries in the win over Baltimore before getting 10 carries for 44 yards in the Super tight loss to the Giants. He comes into the game with 47 battle-scarred carries in four postseason games. His advice is pretty simple.
"You go out there and play ball. It's not one of those things where you try to make it more than what it is," Green-Ellis said. "It's going to be a little bit more intense maybe, but once the game settles down the game is always going to be the game, I don't care if it's the Super Bowl or what you are playing for. The game never changes."
He did learn some things from being on a Belichick team that always makes the postseason.
"You've kind of got to go back to those things you kind of take for granted during the season, those fundamentals. Everyone is playing good. Everyone wants to win and things are not going to be easy. So you have to have good mental toughness and make adjustments during games," BJGE said. "Teams might throw different things at us than we're accustomed to seeing. Just make those adjustments and being able to adjust right there on the field and not having to get back and watch the tape and then learn. Everyone has to be on board and be able to adjust and play their best."
Green-Ellis doesn't buy the notion it has become a passer's league. He's seen enough to know that a running game can still carry the day against defenses that fear balance.
"Everyone is making it out to be a passing league, but I don't see numbers that are that skewed differently from any runner," he said. "You make it a passing league, you throw for 5,000 yards and your receivers are doing the same thing that your running backs are doing. So within a passing league, I would think that the numbers would be skewed the other way. But they're not."
SPEAKERS BUREAU: One thing that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has in common with his best player, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, is that both of them don't go for small talk. In fact, Atkins goes for invisible talk.
"Geno doesn't say anything. I mean, ever," Zimmer said after Wednesday's practice. "As you guys know. 'How you doing today Geno?' 'Good coach.' That's about it. That's about all you get out of him.
"But he's a great guy. He does whatever he has to do. He talks a lot more around the guys than he does around you or me or anything like that. I wouldn't put him on the speaking tour."
Told that he sounded like a speechmaker Wednesday compared to Atkins, Zimmer said, "Yeah. It's a filibuster."
ZIM THE MOTIVATOR: The nice thing about the playoffs is that storylines get dug up and reviewed and looked at in a different light. When the Bengals drafted right end Michael Johnson in 2009 in the third round and left end Carlos Dunlap in the second round in 2010, they had the same kind of rep as hugely talented, underachieving guys that needed to be pushed by a taskmaster like Zimmer.
Now they are key players on what is fast becoming known as one of the league's best front fours. Johnson had a career year with 11.5 sacks and Dunlap has been a gamebreaker with six sacks, two sacks-and-strips, and an interception return for a touchdown.
Zimmer admits that people misread Johnson at Georgia Tech. He had the toughness, he had the desire, he just didn't play as well as had been expected in college. On the other hand, Zimmer says, Dunlap was a tougher read.
"I figured one of us was going to lose the fight and it wasn't going to be me," Zimmer said. "They're much easier to mold the way you want them molded when they're young rookies. Michael was not as bad as Carlos. Carlos was a guy that had to be pushed, confronted, threatened at times, not let play at times. Either they figure it out or they don't figure it out, one way or the other. Both those two guys are smart guys. I do think they understand that you're trying to help them as opposed to trying to ridicule them or something like that."
The coaches are still trying to push Dunlap's buttons. He's been listed as the starting left end on the depth chart most of the year, but he's made just one start. But he's also played the most he ever has with a snap count estimated at 601 compared to 650 for starting left end Robert Geathers.
"Carlos has turned the corner for the most part. I hardly ever have to get on him anymore. For the most part he tries to do things right. He'll ask if he can do this or do that and I'll say 'no' and that's the end of the question," Zimmer said. "By the same token he was struggling there at the beginning of the year and I allowed him to do a few things that we don't normally do because he was struggling. Just like I would if a corner was struggling with the technique, I might try to change it and do something like that. We did change a little bit with him."