Updated: 6:05 p.m.
Bengals left end Carlos Dunlap, who is optimistic about playing Sunday in St. Louis (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) for the first time in three games, was thinking right along with you in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's last second-loss to the Texans in which Houston quarterback T.J. Yates rolled up 163 yards.
"Very frustrating," Dunlap said Thursday of watching the game in street clothes. "Especially when the game is coming down to my situations. If I was out there, maybe I could get that one play. As a competitor, that's what you're supposed to think. It could be the one play we needed."
The Bengals needed just one play in the fourth quarter to secure the win over the Texans and Dunlap certainly has a track record this season for closing games. He hopes he can close this one after returning to the practice field for the first time in three weeks Wednesday and Thursday and working limited.
The play on which Dunlap injured his hamstring was a sack on the next-to-last snap of the 24-17 win over the Titans on Nov. 6. In the game before that in Seattle, his sack with 3:39 left and the Bengals leading by eight set up Brandon Tate's punt return touchdown. In the game before that, his 35-yard fumble return for a touchdown against the Colts with 2:22 left made the breathing room easier at 27-17.
All on passing downs with the Bengals foe trailing, just as it was against Yates. Dunlap has only three sacks, but his 22 pressures still lead defensive tackle Geno Atkins by eight even though he's missed four of the last five games and has played just 12 snaps since that sack in Tennessee.
"I've been trying to get back in for the last five games, not just this one," Dunlap said. "But you can only control what you can control. Now they feel like they can get me ready. The big part of what I need to do is explosion. We took it slow."
HAWK SEES RAMS AGAIN:The way Bengals rookie wide receiver Andrew Hawkins tells it, he had "a cup of coffee" with the St. Louis Rams earlier this season. It was more like a teaspoon of bitter medicine reminding him how hard is the business of pro football.
Hawkins was there for exactly one practice, the first of training camp, before the Rams dispatched him to the waiver wire and where the Bengals claimed him before the New Orleans Saints did on Aug. 1.
"I was a casualty of the lockout, but there's a reason I'm in Cincinnati," Hawkins said after Thursday's practice. "It's where God wants me to be. It's my hometown team, what could be better?"
Hawkins has been one of those great finds as a spot receiver and special teams staple with four special teams tackles as a punt gunner and eight of his 18 catches coming on third down with some of the spectacular variety. His speed, hands and toughness come in a 5-7, 180-pound package that keeps exploding with big plays.
His latest display, a 22-yard sweep on a shovel pass last Sunday against the Texans netted the Bengals a late field goal in the first half. No doubt the Rams would be interested with three of their receivers on injured reserve, one of them fourth-round draft pick Greg Salas. Third-rounder Austin Pettis has 23 catches for 218 yards, two more yards than Hawkins.
"I signed in January before they drafted those guys and then there was the lockout so when they saw me they probably just saw this 5-7, 180-pound guy from Canada," Hawkins said.
But Hawkins found the players to be very welcoming. Veteran wide receiver Mark Clayton called him the day he signed and told him how much he enjoyed watching him on Michael Irvin's reality TV show that gave the winner a Cowboys tryout. Hawkins joined Clayton and other Rams receivers such as Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson when they had voluntary voluntaries in Arizona during the spring. He's also friendly with cornerback Justin King.
"I still keep in touch with some of those guys and they were great with me. They made me feel welcome and I feel badly because a couple of them are on IR," Hawkins said.
Clayton and Amendola got hurt and King is one of the last men standing in the St. Louis secondary, where the Rams have lost three of their top four cornerbacks and 10 altogether. Hawkins has talked about being able to play some corner if needed and the Rams might have been the perfect spot.
But he's not going in with a chip on his shoulder. He's got the same one.
"This one is no different than any other game," he said. "It's hard for me to believe. I'm just looking to stay here by doing anything I can contribute."
INJURY UPDATE:Right tackle Andre Smith didn't work in the Bengals' rainy Thursday morning practice on the Paul Brown Stadium turf after going limited on Wednesday and that could put his availability for Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12 ) against the Rams in jeopardy.
Running back Brian Leonard (knee) and fullback Chris Pressley (knee) remained out and cornerback Nate Clements (hamstring) worked on the side. Running back Cedric Benson (back), safeties Chris Crocker and Gibril Wilson (back) and outside linebacker Manny Lawson (ankle) returned Thursday and were limited. Defensive end Frostee Rucker (hamstring) surfaced on the injury report and was limited. Linebacker Dontay Moch (headaches) didn't practice.
Head coach Marvin Lewis moved up what is usually a 1 p.m. practice time to 11 a.m., putting his team on a Friday schedule. Lewis seems to be trying to switch things up a little bit, plus the players enjoy getting out earlier on those days they practice early.