Titanic game

How crucial is it to win the game against the Titans?

It seems to me that if the Bengals lose that one, the pressure in the Steelers game will be even more magnified. A 4-3 record after a 4-0 start might really hurt the confidence of this young team and put play off hopes in jeopardy.

What are your thoughts?**Joe, Lexington, Ky.

JOE:**

No question it's the biggest game since the opener for a variety of reasons. It becomes bigger than last week simply because they're working off a loss. No losing streaks. Keep the damage to a minimum. No more here-we-go-again nosedives that they can't pull out of in time for a playoff run. But this one is big, too, because it should serve as a great measuring stick of where they've come from since that loss to Tennessee 50 weeks ago.

Last year, their inexperienced offense and banged-up line led by a first-year quarterback melted in the din of The Coliseum. Their suspect run defense got torn up by running back Chris Brown. If they have improved as much as everybody thinks, that shouldn't happen against a team that this time around doesn't have Derrick Mason Samari Rolle, Fred Miller and Kevin Carter.

The Titans are better than most people think, particularly at home and they are dangerous with Brown and Steve McNair. But if the Bengals are going to contend, this is the perfect game where we should see the strides.

Big things to watch are how the offensive line protects Palmer against Tennessee's AFC-best 17 sacks, how injured safety Madieu Williams and the defense holds up against Titans running back Chris Brown, and how the punt team recovers from the gaffes last week.

They've had big road wins under Marvin Lewis in places that have been unkind. Pittsburgh in '03. Baltimore in '04. But it's time to do it consistently and time to do it against a team that has been re-tooling the last few seasons.

And, you are exactly right. A loss in Tennessee makes them play that much tighter next week against the Steelers even though it's at home. Go in there with one loss and the pressure is on Pittsburgh on the road not to fall behind a game in the AFC North.

No way you want to be 4-2 with the Steelers, Brett Favre, and a trip to Baltimore staring at you the next three weeks. They've beaten the Steelers in Cincinnati once since 1998, they've never beaten the young Favre (1992) or the Favre in his prime (1995, 1998), and they've won once in the last eight games in Baltimore.

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