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Vets relish another second-half run


Michael Johnson

The good news is that whenever the Bengals complete the first half of the season under head coach Marvin Lewis at 6-2, they make the playoffs as they did in 2005, 2009 and 2011.

The bad news is they didn't finish particularly strong. The '11 group went 3-5 over the second half of the season and lost three of the last five while the AFC North champs of '09 went 4-4 in the second half in losing three of the last four.

But buoyed by last season's 7-1 finish and with quarterback Andy Dalton on pace to better the passer rating of two Bengals NFL MVP seasons, the vets of '09 see a much different second half.

"Mike Johnson and I were talking about this just the other day," safety Chris Crocker said of he and the right end who are two of the 10 active players left from the '09 run.

"It's just clear we're very talented. We have way more talent behind the starters. We've got a lot of guys that are going to play for us. We've got some guys banged up. We've got a lot more depth that is very capable."

It remains to be seen how much depth the Bengals need in this quickest of turnarounds for Thursday (8:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5 and NFL Network) in Miami. On Monday, safety Taylor Mays (shoulder), the team's nickel linebacker, was ruled out while middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (concussion) also has a knee sprain, according to national reports, and could miss a month. His backup, Michael Boley (hamstring) didn't participate in the late afternoon walkthrough on the same Paul Brown Stadium turf where 24 hours before the Bengals knocked out the Jets, 49-9. Neither did left tackle Andrew Whitworth, although he was on the field after his MRI.

The Bengals have no time to mull how to repeat last year's 7-1 second half rush because it begins so soon. But Johnson senses this isn't one of those teams that is going to hit a wall like it did in '09 or '11.

"I don't think we'll do that. We've been through that knowing what to expect, knowing how to better prepare. The experience is going to help," Johnson said. "We have a lot of talent and we don't want to waste that opportunity."

This may not be a case of the window of opportunity closing. But there is urgency about making sure the shade stays rolled up.

"We have a lot of talent and we don't want to waste the opportunity," Johnson said. "I know I don't want to waste it. (The talent) is so glaring. It's so obvious. It's not a secret. We've got guys that can play across the board. You get a team like that, you have to take advantage of it and make the most of it because it doesn't happen very often."

Crocker likes to say a team is defined by the eighth or ninth game of the year. He thinks this team is coming along but that it is clearly better than the others simply because of the passing game.

"The difference between '09 and this season is we can throw the ball," he said. "Nothing against Carson Palmer, but our passing attack is a lot better than it was in 2009. We could run the ball in 2009, but the passing attack wasn't that good. Me personally, I'm not a coach or anything like that, but I would rather be able to throw the ball all over the yard. That's me personally. It's the best passing game since I've been here."

It's one of the best passing games in franchise history if Dalton's first-half projections of 32 touchdowns, 4,498 yards and a 99 passer rating hold up along with 8.1 yards per pass on 65.6 percent passing.

That would eclipse's Palmer's Bengals record for yards in a season of 4,131 set in 2007, and tie him with Palmer's record 32 TD passes in 2005. The 99 rating would be second only to Palmer's 101.1 in 2005 and ahead of the NFL MVP ratings of Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason. Anderson had 98.4 in 1981 and Esiason 97.4 in 1988.

On pace to complete 65.6 percent of his passes, that would put Dalton fourth on the team list behind Anderson's iconic 70.55 in 1982, Palmer's 67.8 in 2005, and that 66.7 Anderson rung up in 1983 that people forget because the Bengals didn't make the playoffs.

But it is Dalton's 8.1 yards per pass that is the one stat that mirrors how the multiple weapons have raised his game since he came into the season with a career 6.7. It would be only the sixth best in Bengals' history, but the first time since Esiason went for 9.21 that a Bengals quarterback would have an 8 or better. That's good for only second in team annals. Greg Cook still holds the record with 9.41 in his AFL Rookie of the Year season in 1969.

Whitworth didn't practice Monday but he was able to weigh in on the '09 and '11 discussions. Plus he was on the '06 team that lost a playoff berth with three straight losses to finish the season.

"Those are two tough years to compare to this year," Whitworth said. "In '09 we were very limited in who we were. We were run only. In '11 we had a rookie offense. This team's a complete team. We do have to stay healthy, but there's not a group on this team that is too young or too old. It's totally different this year."

Indeed, Dalton completed just 58.1 percent of his passes for 6.6 yards per attempt as a rookie and in 2009 the aging Palmer barely threw for 3,000 yards with 3,094 with an 83.6 passer rating, the lowest of his career at that point.

But look who they were throwing to.

In 2011, the Bengals had three receivers with 50 catches or more. This year they're on pace to have six with at least 48. And in '09 Chad Johnson was the only one with more than 12 yards per catch. This season, the Bengals have a tight end (rookie Tyler Eifert) with 12.2 and two wide receivers with higher yards per than Johnson's 14.5 from that season with Green at 16 and Marvin Jones at 15.4.

Crocker plays his 65th game for the Bengals this Thursday after playing 80 elsewhere. It was the Dolphins that curiously cut him after he played just six games for them in 2008 and it will be recalled he signed with the Bengals five years ago this week 10 days after the Dolphins cut him.

"I try not to get ahead of myself," Crocker said. "I told my best friend every year before the season started, 'This is the year,' and he'd laugh at me at the end of the season. I just take one week at a time. I just keep it to myself, but I think the possibilities are endless."

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