Updated: 8 p.m.
Terrell Owens has been used to the TV lights for a long time. Long before his two cable TV series and Monday night's appointment with the Steelers on ESPN at Paul Brown Stadium. As long as his position coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga was telling the NFL scouts when Owens was coming out that he played best when the lights were on.
"If I was an average fan," he said with a laugh before Wednesday's practice, wearing a Batman T-shirt with an orange bat insignia. "I would want to watch me."
And the numbers back up coach Frank DeBusk.
In 23 Monday night games, Owens has caught 18 touchdown passes and 101 passes for a total of 1,556 yards for an average of 15.4 yards per catch and 68 yards per game. And count Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski in agreement after watching Owens put up similar numbers this season with a team-high 40 catches, 564 yards, and five touchdowns for an average of 14.1 per catch and 80 per game.
"We're a better team with him," Bratkowski said after Wednesday's practice. "We're better at throwing the ball than we were last year. I don't think there's any doubt whatsoever about that. When you look at the wins, I don't know that the wins-losses don't have any factor to do with T.O. versus not T.O. or any of that type of stuff."
Bratkowski points to the stats. This year after seven games quarterback Carson Palmer has five throws of at least 40 yards, equaling all of last year's total. Owens has two of those, both touchdowns, and while Palmer's yards per attempt of 6.58 is slightly fewer than last year's final mark of 6.64, his 12 touchdown passes put him on pace for 27, his highest in four years.
Bratkowski says the improvement in the pass game hasn't taken away from the run game, a top 10 attack last year in the NFL that is now 20th.
"I think what's taken away from the run game is the fact that we've been behind in games," Bratkowski said. "If you look at the first seven games last year, we were ahead in a number of those games. And at the end, you get the running game, you get those extra runs and those extra yards and all those things. When you're behind, you're not going to be running it at the end. And being behind is as much our fault as anybody's fault because we weren't generating enough points early."
Owens says he usually watches MNF if there's an interesting matchup. He knows Bengals-Steelers is quite intriguing, given that the Bengals need it desperately to have any kind of shot of catching 5-2 Pittsburgh in the AFC North.
"I've played in a lot of Monday night games. You prepare during the course of the week," Owens said. "You have an extra day to prepare, so you've got to go out there and just play all-out, really. This is when you want to play your best, so as a team, we feel like our backs are against the wall and we need to play our best."
Owens against the Steelers? In five games he has 23 catches for 300 yards and three touchdowns for 13 yards per catch. In their season sweep of the Steelers last year, four Bengals wide receivers caught a total of 278 yards in the two games for 9.9 yards per catch.
HE CED, HE CED: The Steelers are ranked No. 1 against the run and that has sparked Bengals running back Cedric Benson's interest.
"That's a wonderful challenge. I think it's a privilege to play the No. 1 run defense in the NFL," Benson said. "Not every back is going to see this type of defense. I like it. I love it. The challenge always brings out the best in you."
There is a lot to shoot for. Only one back, the Ravens' Ray Rice with 141 yards last season, has rushed for 100 against the Steelers in the last 41 games. Dolphins running back Ricky Williams has the most yards against them this season with 48 and the longest run Pittsburgh has allowed from scrimmage is just 14 yards.
(Benson had a 23-yard TD run against the Steelers last season.)
Benson, the Bengals bell cow running back, is having no problem standing up physically in this 2-5 start. But he admitted Wednesday the mental strain has been exacting.
"The biggest thing that wears on you (is) when you have a suggestion," Benson said. "When you feel things could be done a little better with a slight change somewhere (and) whether you say it or not, it's not going to matter. They're not going to change anything. That's kind of the frustrating part. You preach about it being a team sport, but when it comes to feedback and stuff like that, it's not appreciated.
"You've got to do what you're told. That's the frustrating part. You just got to try and find joy being in the National Footbal League and having this wonderful opportunity and play football."
BOBBIE STEELS AWAY: Bengals right guard Bobbie Willliams has been in dozens of these grind jobs known as Steelers-Bengals and he joked around when asked if he hates them.
"I was taught early not to use the word 'hate,' but it's a very strong dislike," he said with a smile. "And as far as the Steelers, I mean, it's kind of like having an upset stomach that you can't wait to get rid of ... naw, all fun and jokes aside, it's a big game. "
But Williams admits a lot of water has gone under the bridge. Before last season's sweep, the Bengals had to endure some physical whippings. Yet the 18-12 win at Heinz Field last year that Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis called the most physical game he'd ever been a part of went a long way in ending that.
"And there's some harsh feelings in there somewhere," Williams said. "For a while, they were known as a bully, and we took that from them. Our mentality is to go out there and exert our will and our force upon them, point blank."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Bengals safety Chinedum Ndukwe, who missed Sunday's game with a knee problem, said before Wednesday's practice he'll be back for Monday. A week after devastation all his mates in the secondary were practicing. That includes cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who has missed the last two games.
» Not working were defensive linemen Jon Fanene (hamstring) and Tank Johnson (knee) and with Fanene apparently out a second straight week there is some real concern if he'll be back at all.
» They were longshots anyway and head coach Marvin Lewis indicated that the Bengals won't add wide receiver Randy Moss or linebacker Shawne Merriman. As Carson Palmer said, they've got enough receivers and while Merriman has the career sacks they need, they fear the knee that has prevented him from getting on the field with any regularity since 2008. He's played in 18 games with four sacks since. They did talk about claiming Cowboys linebacker Jason Williams, but they weren't ready to cut one of the seven backers they already have. Carolina would have beat them to the punch anyway because they claimed him with a 1-6 record.
» Cincinnati's Music Hall is going to be a veritable symphony of the NFL Monday afternoon before the Bengals play the Steelers at 8:30 p.m. down the street at Paul Brown Stadium.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Bengals president Mike Brown, ESPN Executive Vice President of Programming John Wildhack keynote the the "Chalk Talk" luncheon while Mo Egger of ESPN Radio 1530 in Cincinnati teams with MNF reporter Michele Tafoya to host the event.
Also on the agenda are former Bengals Jeff Blake, Rudi Johnson and Ickey Woods and former Steelers Jerome Bettis and Kordell Stewart to break down the matchup. Also offering analysis are that night's play-by-play man, Mike Tirico, and Monday Night Countdown analyst Matt Millen.
Bengals Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz leads a Veterans Day presentation from a military color guard and the Wright Brass Band from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, as well as a group of 50 veterans representing the Disabled American Veterans and the Hometown Veterans of our Armed Services.
The ESPN RISE Above Award is going to be presented to two Cincinnati student-athletes for overcoming adversity and excelling in their sports and school, while motivating teammates/classmates: Senior Anthony Dodds of Aiken College & Career High School and senior Brielle Newton of Hughes High School...