Updated: 7:40 p.m.
The Bengals attempt to tie their best road start in history Sunday at 4-0 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, where the Bengals last won in 2006. The only time they did open 4-0 on the road was Paul Brown's last season as coach in the 11-3 season of 1975.
"I like playing away better than home. I don't know why that is," said Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco before Wednesday's practice. "I just like being away. I like the fans fussing at me, the fans screaming at me. It drives me. It makes me play better. At a high level."
In the seven seasons before head coach Marvin Lewis arrived, the Bengals were 11-45 on the road. They are 22-29 in Lewis' seven seasons and after his first five seasons they were 16-16.
"I think this team is comfortable in whatever environment they're in," Lewis said. "Our quarterback has done a nice job of taking the crowd and so forth out of it. I think that's a key, especially in the game early. Don't get unnerved. We talk about that, we practice that and they've taken that to heart. I think the young guys that are getting some snaps and have done a nice job with that. Defensively really with all the things going on around them focus on adjustments the coaches are making. It's a new week, let's go."
RECEIVERSHIP: It was business as usual for the business-like Bengals on Wednesday as they prepared for Sunday's AFC North showdown in Pittsburgh in their first practice without wide receiver Chris Henry, gone for the year with a fractured left forearm.
Which for the wide receivers that meant Laveranues Coles quietly ate lunch while at the next locker Chad Ochocinco ate up the media with a few bold comments and a bold-faced sign. A few doors down, Jerome Simpson grimly wondered when his chance would come since he thinks all signs point to Maurice Purify playing in front of him Sunday. Which would make him inactive for the ninth of nine games this season.
Coles, though, was the only one that wouldn't talk. Not even after his best game as a Bengal with six catches for 72 yards last Sunday in the win over the Ravens that included Cincinnati's longest play of the day, a 32-yard catch and run on the sideline after Coles spun out of safety Ed Reed's tackle. It was the second time he made the Pro Bowler miss that day.
"It happens to the best of them; everybody has off days," said Coles, who politely but briskly dismissed interviews as the media horde panted at The Ocho's locker. And Coles doesn't mind at all.
"I haven't been talking and I don't want to talk now. I'm just chilling. Keep it the same. I've been over here minding my own, so I just I'll keep it that way." Asked if that was superstition, he said, "Pretty much."
But quarterback Carson Palmer never minds talking about Coles and he notices the 10-year vet getting more and more acclimated.
"I think mainly it's more comfort. It's a new offense for him. He's a new target for me," Palmer said. "He's been working through his thing and I've been working through my thing with him. We've thrown thousands of passes since he's been here, and we're really starting to get in the groove. We'll continue to work, and he'll continue to get a bigger role. Do what he does, which is he plays his butt off and blocks anybody you ask him to block. He runs every route perfectly; his precision is as good as anybody we have on our team. The more comfort he gets, the more reps he gets, the better he gets and the better we get as an offense."
Palmer has no problems with Coles' demeanor, which seems to match the brusque efficiency the Bengals are bringing to the workplace nowadays.
"He's a veteran wide receiver who's been in the game a long time; that's the best way describe him," Palmer said. "He's not arrogant; he's not loud and showy. He just shows up and works. He'll go in and block a defensive end. If we have to put him on James Harrison, he'll try to block him every single play. He'll also run 10 'nine' routes in a row and just keep running deep. He'll just wants to do whatever he's asked to do and he wants to do it well. That's the kind of guy you want, especially with all the young guys and showing them how this game is played in this league."
It takes all kinds. Right next to Coles, The Ocho gave a vintage Wednesday media assault. He hasn't had a 100-yard game against Pittsburgh since Nov. 30, 2003 and yet he's saying that cornerback Ike Taylor "can't cover me with a bag inside a phone booth with the door closed."
He agreed with the assessment that Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau basically triple teams him with a zone in front, a zone in back, and a man in the middle. Then he took off on LeBeau, the former Lions cornerback up for an all-but certain Pro Football Hall of Fame election as a senior candidate who was also his first head coach in the league.
"I'd embarrass him, too. I'd kill LeBeau out there," The Ocho said. "If he was in his prime, I'd take him to school."
But Ochocinco also admitted that LeBeau helped him the two seasons he played for him and that he learned from those bus rides he shared with LeBeau when they rode from the hotel to the stadium on the road.
"He's the best," Ochocinco said about how much LeBeau helped him. "At that stage of my career, yeah, I didn't know anything."
The Ocho allowed he didn't know who would replace Henry, but he said it was a big loss and the top three, "Me, Andre, and Laveranues have to step up."
If you ask Simpson, his sense is that the Bengals are going to play the physical 6-3, 225-pound Purify ahead of him. First they have to sign Purify from the practice squad, a move head coach Marvin Lewis didn't rule out this week. The 6-2, 195-pound Simpson can run faster and has big hands, but apparently he hasn't been able to convince them he's got much more than that and a lot of potential. In the preseason, Purify impressed with his physicality and his special-teams contributions.
"To tell you the truth, I can't answer the question," Simpson said when asked what they want to see. "I want what's best for the team, so I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing. Keep my head up and keep practicing. I can't complain. We're winning."
The coaches love his attitude and his willingness to try and get better. But Lewis couldn't help but show a bit frustration with his ' 08 second-rounder, a guy that seemingly hasn't been able to adjust quickly to the complexities of the NFL passing game from the small college trappings of Coastal Carolina.
"He's working diligently. Hell, he's got his own coach, which is great," Lewis said. "He's getting personal tutoring on every single play, every single day. Just trying to get where we can be confident that the quarterbacks can be confident in him understanding everything. He's working hard at it. But some guys come here and they have a little better knowledge of how coverages unfold and things work. And Jerome's working extremely hard at it. The other part of it, shoot, I don't know if there's a guy at any position that has the skill level of Jerome."
As every Cincinnati school kid knows, the Bengals took Simpson with the 46th pick and three picks later the Eagles took Cal's DeSean Jackson, a dynamo that has 88 career catches for a 16.4-yard average, as well two touchdowns off punt returns. It is a pick that Lewis defended Wednesday.
And he was pretty close to it.
"I grew up with DeSean's mom. DeSean's grandfather was my minister as a young kid growing up," Lewis said. "He went to Long Beach Poly, and I coached at Long Beach State, so I know everybody there. ... DeSean is a fine, fine player. He's done a great job. I'm comfortable with the way we had them both as going to be great players and I still feel that about Jerome."
Palmer seemed to indicate after Sunday's game that he felt Purify was more advanced than Simpson. But he wouldn't tip his hand Monday.
"One guy's a big, powerful, run-blocking guy and one guy is a smaller, slighter, faster guy," Palmer said. "Two completely different builds. Very good players. All the potential in the world, they just need to get on the field and do it."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward has noticed the passion of the Bengals defense since the death of Vikki Zimmer, the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, 11 days after the Bengals win over the Steelers.
"With Coach Zimmer, they're playing with of inspiration," Ward said in a conference call Wednesday with the Cincinnati media. "It's unfortunate what happened with Coach and his wife. It really inspired those guys week in and week out. They're giving it their all and they're showing it on tape. They're playing a lot more press coverage, a lot more blitzing. Every week they're getting better and better. I really think the defense is the reason you guys are 6-2."
» Count Ward as a big fan of The Ocho. He has his own touchdown celebration, looking for a fan to reward wearing his No. 86 jersey and giving them the ball.
"Maybe Chad will give me some of his dance moves and tweet me or something," Ward said. "He's a great guy. Some people misunderstand him. He's a big kid at heart."
Ward was one of the guys that counseled The Ocho the previous few seasons when he was taking heat, along with the rest of the Bengals.
"I told him to just go out and have fun. Everybody wants the ball, but you have to control what you control," Ward said. "I'm glad to see Chad being Chad."
» But right now that also means being happy and obedient.
Ochocinco said Lewis asked him not to repeat last week's gift-giving to the Ravens defense and send mustard to the Steelers because they won't "ketchup" to the Bengals.
So instead, The Ocho posted "Rule Number 1059" on his locker, which says official NFL policy is that No. 85 can't be covered.
The note reads in full:
"It is against NFL policy to cover Chad Ochocinco man-to-man. It has always been a rule, but with the events of last year we must have forgotten who he was. Please note that he is the most uncoverable receiver in the league. This rule is for the safety of embarrassment to all defensive backs. Thanks! Chad Ochocinco."
» He also said he has yet to hear from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell if he's been fined for offering a $1 bill to an official while the crew reviewed one of his sideline catches. It didn't help. He was ruled out of bounds.
» WILL linebacker Keith Rivers didn't practice Wednesday, but an exam was encouraging because the doctor said his strained calf was "day-to-day." Left guard Evan Mathis (ankle) didn't practice and neither did fullback Jeremi Johnson (chest). Johnson sat out much of last week with a knee injury but played against the Ravens, when he apparently took a blow to the chest but indications are he won't be out long.
Safety Roy Williams (forearm), who has missed the last three games, had a full practice Wednesday and there are signs he's going to be able to go. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was surprised he didn't last week. Defensive ends Frostee Rucker (neck) and Robert Geathers (hip) were limited, as was running back Cedric Benson, but it was not related to injury.
» Safety Chinedum Ndukwe wasn't listed on the injury report after the limousine in which he was riding Tuesday morning was in an accident that involved a utility pole. Ndukwe, making an appearance at a school with a student, was unhurt but shaken up.
"It's the first crash I've ever been in," said Ndukwe, who reported no soreness.
According to WLWT's web site, Ndukwe was returning from Ockerman Elementary School in Florence, Ky., where a student had won a limo visit in Ndukwe's Fuel Up to Play 60 campaign that encourages students to eat healthy and stay fit.
The site said the accident occurred in the Mount Auburn section of Cincinnati at McMillan Street and Highland Avenue. Before he went out to practice Wednesday, Ndukwe was still uncertain about what happened and didn't know the condition of the limo driver. The student was not in the car, the TV station said.
"I was on the phone. I had my back toward the car that hit us," Ndukwe said. "After that it was just kind of chaos. I'm still not real sure (what happened)."