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Pulling out the rug


NEW YORK — Heard on and near the red carpet before Saturday night's NFL Honors ceremony at Radio City Music Hall:

» Kurt Warner quarterbacked three teams to the Super Bowl, the first one at age 28 and the last one at 37, so he doesn't think the Bengals should pull the plug on Andy Dalton, turning 27 in the middle of next season.

"Sometimes we forget that these guys are 23, 24 years old and we ask them to do so much. I understand it's about winning championships. It takes some time," said Warner, an NFL Network analyst. "What I've seen is he continues to get better. And if a guy continues to get better, I think you have to give him the leeway until he maxes out his talent. We've got to see what we have here.

"How do you not make him the guy? He sets franchise records, he did so many great things this year. He leads you to the division title. ... The biggest thing for Andy is just like everyone is saying. When you get to playoff time, you know the teams that go on are the teams where the quarterback steps up and separates himself. He's still a young kid that's done some amazing things and the next step is to transfer what he does in the regular season to the postseason."

» The Bengals change of offensive and defensive coordinators has been duly noted by Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, honored for his service to the military. With Hue Jackson replacing Jay Gruden on offense and Paul Guenther replacing Mike Zimmer on defense, Harbaugh still sees the AFC North as a four-team bloodbath.

He knows all about Jackson. Jackson was one of his first hires when Harbaugh took over the Ravens in 2008 as quarterbacks coach and took Jackson's counsel in the drafting and developing of Joe Flacco.

"He did a ton for Flacco. He came in and had success out of the gate," Harbaugh said. "I think they've had great coaches all along. He'll do a good job. Paul's been with Mike the whole time, he knows the system, knows the scheme. I'm sure they're not planning on missing a beat. Bengals-Ravens. Ravens-Steelers. Bengals-Steelers. The Browns will be there. Great division."

The Browns have a new head coach in the out-of-the-blue Mike Pettine, an outside linebackers coach in Harbaugh's first year in Baltimore before becoming the defensive coordinator with the Jets and Bills.

"I thought it was inspired. I don't know if they were thinking out of the box or if there was no box. They ended up with a heck of a coach," Harbaugh said. "He did a great job with the Bills this season.

» Jackson, a former head coach and four-time NFL offensive coordinator, is a familiar NFL figure. He worked with Jets head coach Rex Ryan for a year in Baltimore and as Ryan said after meeting the crush of New York reporters looking for the latest morsel, "This isn't his first rodeo, that's for sure … Hue Jackson is a great coach, no question about it. I'm sure they'll do exceptional."

A lifetime ago former 49ers and Lions head coach Steve Mariucci gave Jackson his first big job as offensive coordinator at the University of California in the late 1990s.

"I stole him out of Arizona State," said Mariucci, now an NFL Network analyst. "He's a committed coach, he's a fired-up guy, he coaches hard, he's a good playcaller. It's a good hire."

» Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings Pro Bowl tight end via Cincinnati's Elder High School, has sat down with Zimmer, his new coach, and says he's as advertised. Rudolph has a head start on his teammates since they've been in kind of the same town for six years.

"You can feel that intensity and the (demands). He's made us aware of it," Rudolph said. "The first thing he said to us is you guys have to be ready to work. That's all he knows is working hard. I'm a Cincinnati kid. I grew up that way and look forward to it. I'm a huge football fan and I followed him in his time there. I'm excited for him to bring what he brought to Cincinnati to us."

» Luke Kuechly, out of Cincinnati's St. Xavier High School, was named Defensive Player of the Year but he knows it's going to be hard to fend off Cincinnati's Vontaze Burfict for the next few years after Burfict led the NFL in tackles this season. They got to know each other at last week's Pro Bowl and hit it off, so to speak.

"He's a stud and the Bengals defense, if I'm not mistaken, was up there, too. He's a great player. The one play I remember (against Cleveland), the ball went inside and he stuck the guy and took it for a touchdown. He's a great player. I'm excited to keep watching him."

» Bengals running back Giovani Bernard had a good night even though he lost the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year to Packers running back Eddie Lacy. He hooked up with Gruden and his running backs coach at North Carolina, Randy Jordan, the new Redskins running backs coach under Gruden.

"Weird," Bernard said.

Bernard is getting rave reviews here, but not by the fashion police for Esquire covering the red carpet. Observing a gray blazer with elbow patches and a patterned buttoned-down shirt unbuttoned from H&M with no tie and Cole Haan shoes, the critic said the whole deal probably cost about $350 and was surprised that Bernard didn't dress up more at an event players routinely walked in wearing custom-made suits costing thousands.

Bengals fans couldn't care less, of course. They prefer Bernard's priceless highlights and have taken to his no-nonsense, lunch-pail approach. Unbuttoning the button may become a Who Dey trend.

» The NFL Honors extravaganza is just another sign the league has gone Hollywood. Who to blame? Broadway Joe Namath made it all possible when he quarterbacked the 100-1 underdog Jets from the upstart AFL to that iconic 16-7 win over the NFL's invincible Colts. The man who still owns this town at age 70 shrugged.

"I was part of it, that's all. It helped confirm that underdogs can come back and do it," Namath said. "And then Lenny Dawson and Kansas City solidified it winning Super Bowl IV, so it was 2-2 (AFL-NFL). Look at this game coming up. If you're not from Seattle or Denver or have a favorite, you might pull for the underdog; I think there were a lot underdogs out there that recognized how big underdogs we were and liked that win."

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