With The Big Three still having a Big Question Mark for Sunday night in Jacksonville, this could be a redemption game for wide receiver Kelley Washington if T.J. Houshmandzadeh can't play. Houshmandzadeh is optimistic he can play with his swollen right hand, but Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis doesn't like to play guys who haven't practiced all week. Center Rich Braham (knee) and free safety Madieu Williams suited up Friday, but didn't go in 11-on-11.
Remember Washington? He played in 33 straight games and caught 53 balls after being drafted out of Tennessee in the third round in 2003. But after Washington didn't make a catch in this year's opener, the Bengals went with this year's third-rounder, Chris Henry, and while he has burst into the picture with 10 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown, Washington sat.
But he hasn't griped or moped. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski singled him out the other day for his hard work and preparation during the week even though he hasn't suited up on the weekends.
"The most frustrating thing is I've been out there in some bad times, or going 8-8, and we're 4-0 now, but I haven't been out there sweating and bleeding with them," Washington said earlier this week. "I'm happy we're 4-0, but I'd just like to be a part of it. I'm going to keep working and if he can't go, I'll pick up the slack. I know I'm good enough to be on the field, but it's just for the situation here."
Washington, a restricted free agent at the end of the season, prefers to speak only of this season and not about the future. While some guys might have been in the tank a long time ago and already started the get-me-outta-here campaign, Washington has hung with it in the chance he might get a chance like this one if they sit Houshmandzadeh.
"I'm too good of a player and I've got too much pride to let myself down," Washington said. "It's all a part of sports and business. If I get the chance, I'm going to be sure I'm ready."
It will be interesting to see what they'll do if Houshmandzadeh, their best slot receiver, can't go. Henry would probably be called inside in a three-receiver set with Washington and Chad Johnson outside. Kevin Walter and Tab Perry have also worked inside.
4-0: That's all you have to say, the Bengals say. If they have heard some talk that their 4-0 record is tainted because it has come against teams with a total of three wins, only one offense ranked higher than No. 23 and only one defense ranked higher than No. 29, they aren't letting on.
The way linebacker Brian Simmons sees it, 4-0 in the NFL is 4-0, and he says it's significant that only three other teams (Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, Washington) don't have a loss.
"A team that is 1-2 now can end up 14-2," Simmons said. "This is the NFL. Get your wins whenever you can. It's hard to do. It's hard to get wins. I don't know what they're saying, but I'd rather be 4-0 and have them questioning us instead of being 2-2 and they're high on the hog on us."
Defensive tackle John Thornton finds this particular locker room immune to both criticism and the bandwagon.
"This team does a good job of handling the record and what's next," Thornton said. "I mean, last year there was the buildup around the Monday Night game (a 23-10 win over Denver) and then the next week (a 27-20 loss in Tennessee) we played badly. And look at this year. (In Tennessee again next week). We've got the same thing, so it's going to hard to forget what happened to us."
Defensive tackle Bryan Robinson handles it like this. Some of his friends have been calling to say, "It feels weird the Bengals are 4-0."
"I tell them it's not weird," he said. "I tell them, 'Those were the old Bengals.' These are the new Bengals and they're 4-0 for a reason."