Updated: 11-1-01, 2:40 a.m.
If running back Kenny Watson returns to practice Thursday, one can assume that he passed a neuropsychological exam that the Bengals have used for the past decade.
But in the wake of the NFL's June symposium on concussions, all teams are now required to do similar testing in an effort to establish a standard of care and loose guidelines throughout the league.
Bengals trainer Paul Sparling, who along with every team trainer and doctor attended the summit, said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stressed "competition not interfere with medical decisions," and opened a hotline for players and their teammates if they feel they are being pressured to play despite injury.
But the Bengals appeared to be ahead of the curve, making a baseline neuropsychological test a required part of their physical exams for years so that there is something with which to compare post-injury.
Former cornerback Jeff Burris, one of the most respected Bengals ever who played on Marvin Lewis's first team, missed three games during the 2003 season in Cincinnati with a severe concussion that eventually convinced him to retire the next spring in New England when he collided with Patriots receiver David Givens during OTAs. Burris suffered two concussions in '03 and said the Bengals treated him with great care.
"It's why I still have the utmost respect for (Bengals president) Mike Brown," said Burris Wednesday night from his home of Indianapolis. "They didn't treat me like a commodity. They wanted to make sure that I was OK; not to get me back on the field, but that I would be OK to function after I got done playing."
Sparling said the Bengals also have an outside consultant confer with them on head injuries "for the players' comfort," and Burris said, "He's a guy I got to know quite well because I had all kinds of tests."
"The reason I came back for that fourth week is I missed it. I missed the camaraderie," said Burris of a stretch the Bengals were making a playoff run. "I felt like I wasn't being useful. I was cleared, but I came back too soon because my body wasn't ready."
Burris said his head injuries have given him pause about his own son's involvement in the game.
"He'll be eight in two weeks and he wants to play football so badly," Burris said. "But I won't let him. I want to teach him the proper way and the fundamentals before he gets out there."
It's a nebulous issue because there is even disagreement on what is a concussion. Whatever it is, it's believed Watson has a mild one after left tackle Levi Jones accidentally kneed him with 3:16 left in last Sunday's game.
"He cleared during the game, but our medical staff here has had a really high, high standard on that stuff, at least since I've been here," Lewis said. "Anybody that has ever lost consciousness for whatever brief period has never been allowed to return to action, which is why they wouldn't have allowed Kenny to go back into the game if we had gone back on offense, because for a brief moment he did (lose consciousness)."
AT A GLANCE: The Bengals were greeted with the AFC standings at Wednesday morning's team meeting and Lewis' message was as clear as the eight teams currently not in first place that have better records than the Bengals.
"There was no sugar-coating it. It was real good for us. It was an eye-opener," said right guard Bobbie Williams. "Now it's up to us to do what we want with it."
Asked if it's a daunting task, Williams said, "It's going to change week to week. Daunting to who? The untrained eye?"
Lewis reminded his team that teams like the 5-2 Jaguars, 5-2 Titans, and 3-4 Texans have to play each other, as do the Ravens and Browns, both 4-3, and the 5-2 Steelers. What cornerback Deltha O'Neal got out of is that conference record is the huge tiebreaker, and the Bengals have to virtually run the table in their remaining six AFC games because they are already 2-4.
"Look what happened to Kansas City. They needed us to lose last year and they went to the playoffs. We just need to win out in the AFC," O'Neal said. "Don't let games slip away from you. Just looking at scores in the league the last seven, eight weeks, you know everyone is beating up on each other. The only dominant teams in the AFC are the Colts and New England."
Like everyone else in Bengaldom, quarterback Carson Palmer has a tough time finding an Indy or New England in the last nine games.
"As bad as this season has gone for us, we've still got a shot. Looking at our schedule, there's not a team we can't beat," Palmer said. "We've got to play Pittsburgh again, and I think we're confident we can go in and beat them. Baltimore, we've already beaten them. We're pretty confident going up there and playing.
"There's some winnable games. Some games are going to be tough, but there's no reason we can't go 11-5. It just comes down, like I keep saying, to out-executing teams, the ball bouncing your way a couple of times, the call going your way a couple of times, us playing hard as a team. There's a number of things that factor into it, but there's nothing that says we can't go 11-5."
There may be people saying that Watson is better than Johnson even though Johnson has 18 more 100-yard games for the Bengals, but Johnson isn't listening. With Sunday's game in Buffalo, it's a good time for a history lesson.
That's where Johnson made his first NFL start on Oct. 5, 2003 in place of the franchise's all-time leading rusher, the injured Corey Dillon. The Bengals lost as Johnson scored his first NFL touchdown on a 16-yard run and had 69 yards on 20 carries.
"If I cared about that, wouldn't I have tried to come back sooner?" Johnson asked. "I don't care what anybody says. Have I ever? That's the one thing about me. I don't care what anybody thinks about me. I'm not worried about that at all.
"I came in here with Corey Dillon, so I don't care what anybody says. You go through certain stuff in your career and life and you just have to bounce back from it. I'm up for the task. That's nothing but a small thing."
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said after Wednesday's practice with both Johnson and Watson coming back from injury, they may have to share the load.
"We have to see how they practice," Bratkowski said. "That is the one position that takes the most consistent punishment."
Johnson says he'd have no problems rotating with Watson, but he also said he's confident he can go full tilt. That's why, he says, he didn't come back until now after the hamstring tightened early in the second half Oct. 14 in Kansas City.
"I'm going to go out and play like I normally play. That's always been my mind frame," Johnson said. "That's the reason why I had to be sure I was ready to come back 100 percent. So pick up where we left off and continue to build."
Head coach Marvin Lewis indicated the backfield would be by comittee.
"A healthy Rudi hasn't played in five weeks, basically, or four weeks, so we want to make sure we're not going to overload Rudi," Lewis said. "So we have to use both guys – actually use all three players. We'll use DeDe (Dorsey) as well. We'll use all three backs and try to give everybody a little piece of the pie."
Make that the Cincinnati media because he was delightful with the Buffalo media on its conference call Wednesday. By praising the one-on-one coverage of cornerbacks Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer, Johnson was trying to lobby for no safety help. He invited one of the reporters who wondered if he was too young to be thinking about the Hall of Fame to sit in the front row "because you doubted me," and he reiterated "I can't be Chad Johnson if we're 2-5."
"People feed off my energy when I go out there," Johnson said. "Right now I can't be me because it would be backward. There's no reason to celebrate. I have to contribute the best way I can."
After Johnson broke down what he admires about "Mr. McGee and Mr. Greer," ("Ability to transition in and out of cuts," he said), he reiterated his gripes about his critics.
"You've got to be selfish. Who made it a bad word?" Johnson asked. "You've got to be selfish at whatever you do. Receivers are probably the most because we don't get the ball all that much and we rely on 10 people to get it to us.
"But I'm selfish within the team aspect."
He told them about the Monday night game four years ago in Indy that Palmer and Johnson drove together to watch Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison and how they've been trying to duplicate perfection ever since and sometimes they yell at each other.
"The worst thing is we would have waked off the field (not talking to each other)," Johnson said.
Johnson then signed off by saying, "Tell McGee and Greer I said, 'Hey,' " to end a performance his teammates didn't see.
"I like the louder Chad, the more confident talking trash; getting in someone's ear about different things," Palmer said when asked which version he prefers. "It's hard to be like that 24-7, to have that much energy, especially when you're depressed about how the season is going. It's hard to come in fired up when you're not 7-0, 8-0 like some teams in this league. He plays as hard as he can every week. It doesn't matter how much he's talking or how little he's saying. He still shows up to play."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
Right tackle Willie Anderson (knee) is out for the second straight game and middle linebacker Ahmad Brooks (groin) is going to miss his sixth straight game.
Running back Chris Perry (ankle) was not on the field, which means that he's likely looking at another week on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
Defensive end Justin Smith (hamstring), who has played in 102 straight games, missed practice Wednesday but said he's playing. Defensive tackle John Thornton (neck), who has played in 70 of his possible 71 Bengals games, also sat out but indications are he'll be back. Linebacker Caleb Miller (back) didn't work and safety Herana-Daze Jones was limited.
Also Wednesday, the Bengals indicated there are going to be more discussions with the University of Cincinnati about the possibility of building and sharing an indoor facility. Bob Bedinghaus, director of development for Paul Brown Stadium, confirmed club officials met Tuesday with the UC athletic department,
"UC outlined some creative and interesting initiatives that the University is exploring for its sports programs," Bedinghaus said in a statement. "The meeting was productive, and the two parties will continue to explore whether there are opportunties to collaborate on intitiatives in the future."