Updated: 9:05 p.m.
It is absolutely no coincidence that Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is 3-0 against the Ravens when Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed doesn't play.
Given what Reed has done against the Bengals when he does play, it is amazing Palmer is 6-3 against Baltimore when he's on the field. Reed missed the Bengals 15-10 win in the second game of this season while on PUP, but his six interceptions in nine games have served notice he's as dangerous as ever.
Just look at last week when Reed was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week with two interceptions in the Ravens 20-10 win at Cleveland. It was the 10th time in his career that he had multiple interceptions and he's just 93 yards short of Rod Woodson's all-time record of 1,483 career interception return yards.
"He's kind of a wild card, where you really have to know where he is and have a good feel for him as the game goes on," Palmer said Wednesday. "So it is a little bit different with Ed in there, but it's still a really good defense without him. And they hung on and won a bunch of big games early on in this season when they didn't have him. So it's still a very good team without him."
Reed has picked off Palmer four times and has scored two touchdowns off interceptions, one off a lateral from cornerback Samari Rolle in 2006. The last of his seven TDs off interceptions came against the Bengals last year in Baltimore when he took one back 52 yards. In the nine games against Palmer, Reed has also come up with three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and got his hands on eight balls.
But after picking Palmer three times as a rookie in 2004, Reed has only got him once since. Palmer had the same streak going against Steelers Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu up until a few weeks ago. Polamalu returned a pick for TD in the first game they met in 2004 and Polamalu didn't get Palmer again until three weeks ago, when he got him twice, once for a pick-six.
"He's much more of a ballhawk than Troy; Troy is very good when the ball's around him, but Troy's used a lot differently," Palmer said. "Troy is really used down in the box to stop the run and used a lot lower. Ed just roams the middle of the field. So they're really playing two different positions, two different styles of football. Ed is the guy that plays more of a defensive back role, where Troy is really down there playing the run."
Palmer is coming off the best passer rating of his career with four touchdowns for 157.2, but with Reed on the field he's been either very good or very bad. In five of the games Palmer has had at least a 91 rating. In three of them, he couldn't get above 52,4
"When Ed's back there and Troy's on the field, you've got to know where those two guys are," Palmer said. "And both of those guys have similar guys around them, where Terrell Suggs is a guy you've got to know where he is too, and so is 92 (James Harrison) in Pittsburgh. So they're very good players and there are very good players around them that help them get to the ball and make plays."
MARV AND MIKE: There is one game left on the contacts of such key figures as Marvin Lewis, Jonathan Joseph and Cedric Benson, not to mention an ornery fellow known as the collective bargaining agreement, and that was largely the topic of conversation Wednesday in the last media day of the season:
Bengals at Ravens Sunday, 1 p.m., Channel 12 in Cincinnati.
Lewis, 10-5 against his old team, blew off any questions about next Monday saying he's only thinking about Sunday. Benson says the offseason isn't here yet. Palmer, Lewis' first draft pick, is thinking about Reed instead of reading the tea leaves.
It is appearing as if Lewis and Bengals president Mike Brown are headed to another negotiating session eight years after they first signed with the talks pivoting on each other's vision of the future.
From what can be gathered in the bunker at Paul Brown Stadium, no deal is currently on the table for Lewis to reject or to accept, and nuts-and-bolts discussions won't begin in earnest until Monday, the day after the season finale in Baltimore. The decision-making process is to be "deliberate," but Lewis told Fanhouse.com that he expects to know if he'll back for a record-breaking ninth season Monday or Tuesday.
There are plenty of mixed signals buzzing around Lewis. Last week he told Bengals.com and The Cincinnati Enquirer that the plan was for him to return and that he has been talking with Brown, but that no decision had been made. This week he hinted to Fanhouse that the two have some more talking to do.
"We've got to decide how it is going to be," Lewis told the Web site. "His vision of the football team and mine. There are certain things he wants to emphasize with me. Things that are important to him. I expect to hear those."
The players are keeping their hands off it. Asked by the Baltimore media Wednesday if he thinks Lewis will be back or if he wants him back, Palmer kept it vanilla.
"I have no idea what's going to happen," he said. "You know, with the CBA, it's going to be difficult for some places to turn loose their coaches, just because the new coaching staff might not see their team until May, June, July or August. Who knows? So, I don't think there's any way to think about that. All you can really focus on is the next game, and for us, that's Baltimore, and we're worried about that. And whatever happens at the end of the year happens."
SACK WATCH: With eight sacks, left end Carlos Dunlap is one sack away from eclipsing Justin Smith's club rookie record of 8.5. But he's got another number in mind and has for a long time. At least ever since the Bengals took Dunlap in the second round out of Florida.
"Ten," Dunlap said Wednesday. "That was the goal coming in. That and to lead all rookies."
That means two on Sunday, which would keep pace with what he's been doing in the last five games, when he has seven sacks. Dunlap is one behind the rookie lead and Detroit tackle Ndamukong Suh, but it looks like he'll join tackle Dan Wilkinson as the only Bengal to lead the AFC in rookie sacks. Wilkinson had 5.5 in 1994 and Dunlap has a big edge on the 4.5 of Dolphins linebacker Koa Misi, a second-rounder taken 14 picks ahead of Dunlap.
Ten has proven to be an elusive sack number in Bengaldom. Only one man has reached it since 1992, current teammate Robert Geathers in 2006.
FUTURE LBS: Linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald, fiery and intense, once coached four Pro Bowlers in the same season in Baltimore. Although he isn't happy with how his unit played some games earlier in the year, he talked excitedly about what his crew has done here lately after Wednesday's practice.
With Dhani Jones possibly gone in free agency, FitzGerald thinks he has two potential successors in SAM backer Ray Maualuga and rookie backup middle linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy. FitzGerald has put Muckelroy at middle in the goal-line package the past month and has been rewarded with goal-line stands in the last two games on which he's been a big factor.
"Those two guys can play the position; I believe they can play it well," FitzGerald said. "I don't need to see Rey do it, I know he can. I've seen enough in the times he's been in there. I watched him play college football for three or four years. He's going to be a great Mike linebacker. I think Roddrick Muckelroy will also be an outstanding Mike linebacker."
FitzGerald is bringing Muckelroy along much like the Ravens did outside backer Jarret Johnson a few years back. When it looked like Adalius Thomas might leave in free agency, Baltimore gave Johnson, a defensive end, some snaps at outside backer in a specialty package that previous year. Thomas did leave and Johnson was able to step in to become one of the league's best no-name players. He now has the longest consecutive games streak in Ravens history at 112.
Maualuga was the odd man out in the goal-line package after Muckelroy made the third-down stop against Cleveland that ended up preserving a 19-17 win two weeks ago, but he got into the spirit when he got on the phone to FitzGerald in the press box and said, "I guess I lost my job."
But Maualuga knows the calls and defense well enough that FitzGerald thinks he can play in the middle. He emphasizes Maualuga can't be saddled with the same responsibilities that Jones has because Jones is so experienced.
"It's not that Rey can't make the calls, I believe he can," FitzGerald said. "Nobody on this football team can step in and do what Dhani does. There isn't anybody on campus that can do that. He knows what everybody is doing. Sometimes he suffers a little bit because of that because he is so busy doing other things he kind of falters a little bit at his position at times.
"But try to play without him."
FitzGerald also had high praise for WILL backer Keith Rivers in revealing he's played the last dozen games or so with a painful case of plantar fasciitis on the bottom of his foot. He says Rivers has played exceptionally the last few weeks.
"And you know what he's said to me about it?" FitzGerald asked about the injury.
"He's one tough (guy)," he said.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Palmer did expound on left tackle Andrew Whitworth not making the Pro Bowl, calling it "terrible."
"He's been a monster," Palmer said, noting that while other left tackles often have help from backs and tight ends, particularly against top pass rushers, Whitworth goes it alone.
» Whitworth did get handed a trophy, though, Wednesday when the Cincinnati chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America voted him the team MVP as he joined right tackle Willie Anderson as the only offensive linemen to win in the nine years of the award.
"Very deserving," said Palmer, a past winner.
Whitworth reiterated that he thinks a player's draft position goes a long way in determining if he's a Pr Bowler. All three AFC tackles - Cleveland's Joe Thomas, Miami's Jake Long, the Jets D'Brickashaw Ferguson - went in the top four.
"All three of them have had multi-sack games they have given up in the last two years and I've had zero," Whitworth said. "So, how can you be a Pro Bowler if you've had multi-sack games and the other guy hasn't? That's the thing, to me, there's yet to be a guy that's beat me twice in a game. You might beat me once, which has only happened three times, but you don't give up two. That to me is a Pro Bowler."
» Chapter president Joe Reedy also presented running back Cedric Benson with the Good Guy Award for his cooperation with the media. Asked if he wanted it Federal Expressed to Chicago, where he was ripped for three years, Benson laughed. Then he got serious. "It's definitely a statement of character," he said.
He'll need a suitcase to get home. On Tuesday, Benson, who turned 28 Tuesday, received the club's Ed Block Courage Award as voted by his teammates.
"All of it has to do with the people in your surroundings," said Benson of the change in perception from Chicago to here.
» Lewis isn't saying much about wide receiver Chad Ochocinco's status. But bone spurs are a painful injury and Ochocinco still has to be considered iffy, like he was before he was inactive for last Sunday's San Diego game. He didn't practice Wednesday and cornerback Johnathan Joseph (ankle), tight end Jermaine Gresham (knee), running back Bernard Scott (toe) and linebacker Dan Skuta (back) were out. Left end Carlos Dunlap (shoulder), one sack away from the club's rookie sack record with nine, was limited.
» The Bengals on Wednesday were granted a roster exemption until Monday for cornerback David Pender, who was acquired Tuesday on waivers from Indianapolis. Pender has not yet reported to the team and is deciding whether or not to continue his football career. The exemption leaves the club with 52 players on the roster.