BY GEOFF HOBSON
There is still concern about just how much Peter Warrick can play this season with his knee, and there are more exams ahead before the season starts in eight days, and the biggest test may not be Friday night but Saturday morning.
Yet Warrick, the Bengals' jitterbug wide receiver, emerged from the 16-13 victory over the Colts at Paul Brown Stadium relieved and resolved to be full tilt for the Sept. 12 opener in Jersey.
"Are you serious? I already know. That ain't a question," said Warrick after catching five balls for 32 yards in his first game action of the summer. "Once my adrenaline got going I was, 'OK, I just can't be stopped right now.' That's how I felt."
Warrick returned to practice last week after two weeks of inactivity that followed a balky opening of training camp in which the knee gave him more trouble than he and the team thought it would after similar fits and starts during the spring minicamps.
His recovery from last December's arthroscopic knee surgery apparently became complicated by an infection. And with radio reports swirling that arthritis has also built up in his knee, there have been concerns that Warrick might not be able to play at all and go on injured reserve, costing the Bengals his career-best 79 catches, 819 yards, and seven touchdowns from last season.
But Warrick seemed to ease some of the doubts, converting his patented third downs twice, making a stretching one-handed snag high across the middle on a tipped pass, and catching three balls for 22 yards from old partner Jon Kitna in the hurry-up drive ending the first half.
Warrick, who had been fighting swelling after he practiced on it earlier in camp, planned not to return in the second half. Just like after practice Monday, they backed him off a bit Tuesday.
"Just being smart about it," Warrick said. "That was the main goal. Go in the first half, see in the second half just how it felt. It felt good (after halftime)."
Warrick clearly has a rapport with Kitna that he might not have yet with new starting quarterback Carson Palmer. Warrick caught four balls from Kitna, and the one ball he got from Palmer he lost two yards on the Bengals' first play of the game on a swing pass. On one route on a third down in the first series, Warrick went one way and Palmer threw the other.
"I really don't think I practiced with him much at all in camp — maybe a couple of times," Palmer said. " He's been up a couple of times, then down at times. It's good to have him back and good to see him out there again. To see his face in the huddle again is great. It is something we'll get back — we'll get the timing back."
Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh saw plenty of good signs from his friend.
"He got that one-handed snag out there. He looked real good," said Houshmandzadeh, who used Warrick's missing practice time to convince the coaches he is back from his own injury.
"Hopefully, he'll feel OK tomorrow," Houshmandzadeh said. "He was able to do his thing. One play he caught the ball and ran backwards and you're saying, 'No, don't do that.' But he got it all back. Something special can happen anytime he gets the ball. You could see they wanted to get him the ball right away, show him that the knee is OK and will respond. I'm glad he held up."
Head coach Marvin Lewis has been convinced all along that once Warrick realizes he has to spot himself more and monitor it more, he will be over it mentally and be able to deal with it physically. Even Warrick said earlier this week it was more a mental challenge than physical one.
""He did a nice job tonight," Lewis said. "To see him get going and have that smile on his face was a good thing. What this was is another step in the process of where his is going to be as a player this year. Last week he wanted to put on his jersey just to warm up, so he could play this week. His frame of mind has been good for the past seven or eight days."
Warrick said after the game that as far as he is concerned, he thinks it's good to go.
"I'm cool. I'm just getting the treatment I need every day and be smart about it," Warrick said. "I'm all right now. I'm ready, baby."