Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, who has missed the last four games with a hamstring injury, began Wednesday not having any ideas where his defense ranked in the NFL against the run. Told 31st, or next-to-last, Maualuga looked stunned.
"We won't be 31st at the end of the season," Maualuga said.
The absence of Maualuga and Pro Bowl WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee) hasn't helped. Head coach Marvin Lewis said Maualuga would return to practice Wednesday, but he still looks to be questionable to play Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in New Orleans after being limited. Lewis said Burfict won't practice, so it's looking like he won't play.
Maualuga says he hates to talk about himself and he's not saying his return is going to turn the rankings upside down. But he does want to be a spark for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's unit.
"You can't just show up and practice and just to practice and go home," Maualuga said before practice. "Things have to change. Like (Guenther) said, if they're not going to do the things they're asking you to do, then you're not going to play. Hopefully that hits a couple of people and things get changed around here."
Lewis said running back Giovani Bernard (hip, shoulder) won't work Wednesday, so he doesn't look good for Sunday. But right tackle Andre Smith (ankle) and cornerback Leon Hall (concussion) are back, Lewis said. Smith was limited, Hall went full.
Bernard worked on the rehab field during Wednesday's practice, but there was no sign of Burfict, two weeks removed from arthroscopic surgery. Also not working were starting cornerback Terence Newman (knee), starting tight end Jermaine Gresham (thigh), backup safety Taylor Mays (foot), and backup guard Mike Pollak (knee). Running back Cedric Peerman (knee) was limited.
STILL SALUTES PAYTON: Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still plans to approach Saints head coach Sean Payton before the game and thank him for his help. It will be recalled that early on Payton bought 100 of Still's No. 75 jerseys, donating $10,000 to pediatric cancer research in name of Still's daughter Leah. Still credits Payton for helping trigger the wave. "He got the ball rolling," Still said. "He was the very first guy. Everyone started following suit after what he did, so a lot of the credit goes to him."
Still has talked to Payton since, but it was on the Mike and Mike radio show. He'd like to say something a little more private and a little more personal.
"You really can't thank somebody the way you want to or are supposed to over the phone,"
Still said. " It's something you have to do face to face, so I'm definitely looking forward to meeting him … Whatever comes to my mind, whatever comes from my heart. It's not something I'm going to practice before I meet him."
Payton is also looking forward to the meeting, but truth be told he wasn't even sure what positon Still played before he made the donation. "I'm going to have to find a jersey number because I probably thought he was an offensive lineman," said Payton on Wednesday's conference call with the Cincinnati media. "I really wasn't familiar with Devon as a player and have obviously become more familiar with him. It's great to see the support the Bengals have shown, Marvin and the Brown family and then the rest of the league."
It was that bond Payton feels with Lewis as well with the Browns ownership of Mike Brown and Katie Blackburn that spurred him on after hearing on the radio how the club had stuck by Still despite cutting him just before the season started. As a former assistant coach at Bengals founder Paul Brown's alma mater of Miami University who brought the Saints to Paul Brown Stadium for training camp practices, Payton knows the terrain.
"Knowing Marvin for a long time, we sit next to the Bengals at the owners meetings, Mike and Katie, so you get to know a group a little closer than other teams," Payton said. "And just hearing how they handled it was pretty inspirational. It was really spontaneous and something I thought would be a good gesture."
The Saints game finds the Stills in a hopeful wait. After a harrowing day Tuesday, Leah's radiation treatment at Philadelphia Children's was delayed until Wednesday and Still spent his lunch hour waiting to find out how the final 45 minutes went.
"It got pushed back because her white cells had dropped to 381 and they're supposed to be 500 for the radiation," Still said, "Then (Tuesday) the medicine didn't get to Philly in time. When it left Canada, it got stuck in Memphis, so we had to wait another day. She just got it this morning."
Now the wait is on. When Leah was diagnosed June 2, Still said she had cancer in her arms, legs, hips, chest and skull. Now it is only in her chest and lower extremities. In four to six weeks they hope to find out the radiation has taken care of the rest.
JIMMY REX: Here we go again.
The Bengals have this season struggled against a Murderer's Row of tight ends (Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, Coby Fleener, Owen Daniels) and the Saints have the best in 6-7, 267-pound Jimmy Graham. After suffering a shoulder injury in the overtime victory over Tampa Bay Oct. 5, Graham has 22 catches in the last three games at 10 yards per and four TDs. His two-yard TD catch last Sunday gave the Saints a 24-21 lead with 1:52 left in regulation before the 49ers tied it and then won in overtime.
Bengals SAM linebacker Emmanuel Lamur has seen them all.
"He's like a dinosaur," Lamur said of Graham. "He's big. He's a tall guy. It will be fun to compete with him."