AFC North: AFC North

On deck for Bengals: Week 3 vs. Titans

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
9:00
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CINCINNATI -- It's about that time of week when we start turning the corner from the Cincinnati Bengals game just played and toward the one that is on the horizon.

The Falcons are now in the rearview.

On deck: The Tennessee Titans.

Record
1-1

How they got there
Two 26-10 results. The first was a win at Kansas City to start the season, and the second was a loss at home against the Cowboys last weekend. Tennessee's defense couldn't stop the Cowboys from moving the ball. Dallas racked up 26 first downs, mostly on the ground. Paced by DeMarco Murray's 167 yards rushing, the Cowboys ran for 220 yards.

Key players
QB Jake Locker. The eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Locker was claimed 27 spots ahead of the Bengals' Andy Dalton. So far this season, Locker has thrown two interceptions and been sacked six times. He also has 500 yards passing through the two games.
TE Delaine Walker. One of the many good tight ends the Bengals will face this season, Walker could give outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur a good test. Walker was targeted a team-high 14 times for a team-high 10 catches and 142 yards last week. He had 50 yards after one catch in that game that resulted in a 61-yard total pickup.
S Bernard Pollard. A former Baltimore Raven, Pollard is quite familiar playing in Cincinnati. In three career games at Paul Brown Stadium he has 17 tackles, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. So far this season, he has 16 tackles and a sack.

Titans' base defensive scheme
3-4

Series history
Titans lead 39-32-1 overall, counting the franchise's days as the Houston Oilers. Since moving to Tennessee in 1997, they have an 11-5 record over the Bengals. Cincinnati has won three of the past four meetings, though, dating back to 2005.

Bengals' regular-season home streak
Cincinnati is hoping to set a new regular-season home winning streak record. Dating back to 2012, the Bengals have won 10 consecutive games at Paul Brown Stadium, including last week's over the Falcons. They would surpass a mark set in 1988-89 if they beat the Titans to get their 11th straight.

Uni watch
The Bengals will return to their dark-colored home uniforms this week as they are scheduled to wear black jerseys and white pants. It will be the second time they have worn that combination this season. They beat Baltimore in it on the road two weeks ago. Since the last major uniform renovation in 2004, the Bengals are 25-25 in that combination.

Week 3 stat to consider
Be on the lookout for the matchup between the Bengals' passing game and the Titans' passing defense. Dalton -- and receiver Mohamed Sanu, with his 50-yard pass last week -- has paced the Bengals to the third-ranked passing offense in the league. They average 301.5 yards per game in the air. Tennessee, meanwhile, has the league's best current pass defense, holding opposing quarterbacks to an average 163.0 yards in the first two games. Dallas' Tony Romo had just 148 yards passing last week.

Who to follow
You'll want to be sure to follow my ESPN.com colleague Paul Kuharsky on the Titans blog and also on Twitter @PaulKuharskyNFL for all things Titans this week. You'll learn much more from Paul later this week in our doubly covered game preview. Another good follow includes The Tennessean's Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports).

Bengals make offensive roster moves

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
3:45
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CINCINNATI -- With their passing offense -- specifically their tight ends -- depleted after the first two games of the season, the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday made a series of roster moves.

First, they placed 10-year veteran tight end Alex Smith on the injured reserve list after he suffered a left biceps injury against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Smith was one of three Bengals lost in the first quarter of a physical game. Overall, five Bengals were sidelined before the game ended, causing the Bengals to get a little creative with their personnel decisions entering this Sunday's contest against the Tennessee Titans.

Since fellow tight end Tyler Eifert is already on the short-term IR, and since teams are only permitted to put one player per season on that designated-to-return IR, Tuesday's news means Smith's season is officially over. He's placed onto the season-ending injured reserve. He appeared in the first two games, helping the Bengals address their depth behind Eifert, who got hurt in the first quarter of the season opener at Baltimore.

Eifert is expected to return Week 10 when the Bengals host the Cleveland Browns on a Thursday night.

In addition to removing Smith from the 53-man roster, the Bengals signed free-agent tight end Kevin Brock and slid him into Smith's old spot. Brock is a second-year player who opened this season's training camp with the Bengals before getting waived two days before the team's preseason finale. He originally was signed by the Bengals last postseason after Smith dislocated a wrist in the regular-season finale. This is the second straight season Smith has ended a year on IR.

Along with adding Brock, the Bengals also released tight end Ryan Otten off the practice squad to make room for offensive lineman Emmett Cleary. The versatile guard/tackle is a first-year player from Boston College. He spent time last season on Tampa Bay's practice squad before getting acquired by Oakland on waivers this summer. He was waived by the Raiders the same day the Bengals cut Brock.

Even with all these moves, the Bengals have the same number of players they did when the day began -- 52. They're still one shy of the 53-man limit, and could hit it Wednesday when they have to make a decision on cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris, whose two-game suspension ended Monday. The NFL granted the Bengals a two-day exemption period starting Monday to determine what they're going to do with him. At this point, it seems they'll either sign him or release him.
CINCINNATI -- Like most coaches, Marvin Lewis tries to avoid giving injury updates as much as he's permitted to do.

Traditionally, he remains mostly silent when discussing injuries, especially on Mondays after Sunday games, and especially when they aren't ones that will require major roster moves to be made.

Green
Burfict
So this Monday, when he met with local reporters for his weekly news conference, it wasn't much of a surprise when Lewis provided very little in the way of updates on the five players who were hurt in Sunday's 24-10 win over the Falcons. Lewis was asked about the status of linebacker Vontaze Burfict receiver A.J. Green, the Pro Bowl wideout who was lost just six offensive plays into the contest to a toe injury.

Asked how concerned he was about the injury and whether it might keep Green out for any extended period of time, Lewis responded by saying, "You use that word 'concern' and I never agree to that, so he'll be out there when he's out there."

Then Lewis added, "but I don't think it's anything long term."

Green told ESPN's Bob Holtzman after the game that the toe isn't broken and that he hopes to play this weekend when the Bengals host the Titans. Bengals.com reported that an MRI on Green's foot came back negative.

It wouldn't be too surprising if Green and a few of the others get held out this week. After playing the Titans on Sunday, Cincinnati has a bye week before traveling to New England for a Sunday night game in Week 5. The Bengals have already targeted that as the week receiver Marvin Jones will return from a foot injury. It appears he's getting close to practicing again ahead of that game, although it's unclear exactly when he'll be back out with his teammates.

As for the other injuries, the Bengals are still in wait-and-see mode with Burfict. One week after suffering a concussion in the opener, Burfict left Sunday's contest with a stinger. Asked about Burfict, Lewis invoked that word he doesn't like using.

"I can't be concerned," Lewis said. "We have to play with what we've got. Vontaze will have to overcome whatever he has, and we'll keep moving on. It's football."

As for the other injuries, Bengals.com reported Monday that the training staff believes defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (left knee) and offensive guard Kevin Zeitler (right calf) did not suffer season-ending injuries when they left Sunday's game. The website added that the "news doesn't sound good" on tight end Alex Smith (left biceps).

Zeitler and Thompson were seen on crutches Monday. Zeitler's right leg was in a boot and he wasn't putting any pressure on it as he hobbled through the locker room. While he didn't want to discuss the prognosis of his injury, Zeitler did tell me the injury occurred when he ended up taking on two defenders during Giovani Bernard's 4-yard touchdown run. It didn't appear Zeitler was hit any particular way during the block, the calf just kind of gave out, he said.

After trying to hop off the field following the second-quarter score, he immediately sat down on the field and got evaluated by training staff before limping into the locker room.
CINCINNATI -- The two-week suspension Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris served for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy was lifted Monday.

He was granted full reinstatement to all team activities, but his status with the team as of now remains in limbo.

For now, he is neither formally on the 53-man roster nor on the practice squad. The NFL granted Lewis-Harris and the Bengals a two-day exemption Monday that will give the team two days to figure out what exactly it will do with him. The Bengals have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to inform the league.

With only 52 players on the current 53-man roster, there technically is a spot for him. But after a wave of serious injuries swept over the team in Sunday's 24-10 win over the Falcons, the Bengals may be active on the free-agent market this week as they try to maintain depth following the injuries. Receiver A.J. Green, linebacker Vontaze Burfict, offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, tight end Alex Smith and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson were the five players lost in Sunday's game.

Zeitler's, Thompson's and Smith's injuries appear to be the most serious; it appears for now that it could be weeks before they return to action. The other two have better chances of playing this week against Tennessee but are more likely to be rested this week ahead of the Bengals' Week 4 bye.

Lewis-Harris' partial reinstatement means he is cleared to participate in workouts and personnel meetings. If he gets signed to the 53-man roster officially on Wednesday, he will join a deep defensive backs group.

The third-year player spent the preseason with the Bengals after appearing in regular-season games the last two years. He has eight career defensive tackles.

The Film Don't Lie: Bengals

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
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A weekly look at what the Cincinnati Bengals must fix.

This is going to sound like nitpicking, but heading into the Bengals' Week 3 game against the Titans on Sunday, Cincinnati will need to tweak its interior run protection. The reason this might sound nitpicky is because in actuality, there's very little the Bengals have to address coming out of their Week 2 win over the Falcons. Overall, the run game was sound. The passing game worked smoothly. They were good on third down on both sides of the ball. The defense put intense pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and did a good job snagging three interceptions in the secondary. The Bengals had obvious issues with kicking this week, but we've addressed those already.

The film doesn't lie about the Bengals' comparative difficulty running between the tackles. They averaged 3.6 yards per interior rush, and 4.9 yards per rush around the edges against the Falcons. Including the season opener, the Bengals have averaged just 3.5 yards up the middle this season. Rookie center Russell Bodine still is working on his run blocking as an NFL lineman. That was evident in the minus-4.7 run-block grade Pro Football Focus handed him after Sunday's game; the only negative grade a Bengals' offensive player was given.
CINCINNATI -- It was an uncharacteristic day for Cincinnati Bengals kicker Mike Nugent.

Nugent
Seriously.

He had never missed three field goals in a game before Sunday's sudden case of the shanks and hooks. Not in the 109 previous NFL games he played had he been that inaccurate. Not in the four years he spent at Ohio State, either.

Plain and simple, Nugent's misses don't come in the bunches that they came in during the Bengals' 24-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. His coach, Marvin Lewis, knows that and made it known that he still believes in his veteran kicker.

"I know he'll be better next time out," Lewis said. "That's the one good thing about Mike. He's such a pro."

Despite the missed kicks, the Bengals still beat the Falcons convincingly.

Lewis was asked if he knew what contributed to Nugent's poor performance. The coach said he didn't know. Nugent, who normally speaks with reporters after every game, good, bad or otherwise, wasn't in the locker room when the media was allowed in Sunday.

Wind didn't appear to be a factor. For most of the day winds never reached double-digit miles per hour.

Perhaps, it was just simply one of those days that players can sometimes go through; days when it seems like nothing goes the way it's supposed to.

In addition to missing on the three field goals, Nugent also seemed to struggle on kickoffs. The plan, naturally, was to prevent electric Falcons return man Devin Hester from even touching the football. That wasn't the way the day worked out for Nugent and Cincinnati's coverage team.

Hester was able to field each of Nugent's four kickoffs, catching them in the end zone, not far from the goal line. Hester returned each of them, making at least one coverage-teams player miss on every return. Hester, who exchanged words via reporters earlier in the week with Bengals cornerback and punt returner Adam Jones about which of them was the better returner, averaged 29.5 yards on the four returns. His longest was for 36 yards.

With respect to the missed kicks, Nugent missed from 38, 49 and 55 yards. The second miss took a bizarre sharp angle left of the goal posts after first appearing to go straight through off Nugent's right foot. The third field goal try fell just short and to the left of the uprights.

Nugent's only make was a 31-yard attempt; his first of the game.

While the kicker had never missed three in one game in his career, he has missed two kicks in a game six times. He also missed two kicks in two games in college.

Last week, Nugent was remarkably better, nailing five of the six field goal attempts. The one miss was a blocked kick. Blocks aside, Lewis is confident the Week 1 Nugent will emerge when Cincinnati hosts Tennessee next Sunday.

"We lived a bad day," Lewis said, "and next time out I can count on him like we did a week ago."
CINCINNATI -- As Andy Dalton approached the line of scrimmage his eyes panned the field.

Left, right, middle. Short, intermediate, deep. The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback scanned the zones where he wanted to send his receivers, wondering if there was a soft spot for them run into, and if there was a place he could pass to in order to convert a crucial third down.

It was in his pre-snap read of the third-and-6 defense when he saw a safety creep up and the linebackers get even closer. At that moment, it was evident: The Falcons were going to bring an all-out blitz, forsaking the deep portions of the field. If a receiver could get past the safety, he might not only get a first down.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsAndy Dalton ran his record against NFC teams to 10-3.
He could get a touchdown, too.

That was Dalton's hope when he saw the defensive formation called a "Cover Zero." That particular formation is one in which only a safety sits downfield in zone coverage, while the cornerbacks line up in man coverage and the rest of the defense goes in all-out pursuit of the quarterback. Once Dalton recognized what was coming, he made a few tweaks at the line of scrimmage, barking out protection changes and additional blitz pickups.

His adjustments paid off.

Perhaps the most crucial line change was getting running back Giovani Bernard to pick up a blitzing defender. When he did, the block gave Dalton just a split-second long enough to get off his pass without a hand being directly in his face.

"I saw exactly what he saw," receiver Mohamed Sanu said.

When the ball was snapped, Sanu's objective was simple. He needed to run a slant and quickly get enough separation from his cornerback that Dalton could lead him to a spot where only he could get hands on the ball.

That's precisely what happened, and 76 yards and one missed tackle later Sanu was in the end zone with a key touchdown that began the Bengals' separation. The touchdown made it 17-3, and came just before an interception and subsequent score pushed the lead even further barely five minutes later.

"We had a good check on and Mo ran a really good route," Dalton said. "When you're playing Cover Zero and you make one guy miss, there's nobody else in the back end. When [cornerback Robert Alford] fell off on the route, Mo had a pretty good jog into the end zone."

Sanu's touchdown reception showed just how in sync the pair was. With Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green dealing with a toe injury that could keep him out next week against Tennessee, the Bengals will desperately need this pairing to continue to be on the same page.

"When guys go down like that, that's the mentality that you have to have as a team, regardless of the position," said Dalton, referencing the five Bengals who were lost to injury Sunday, including Green. "Everybody here knows what Mo can do and obviously he had a really good chance to showcase his ability."
CINCINNATI -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals' 24-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons:

Still
Posters for Still: Sitting just inside Devon Still's locker late Sunday afternoon after the win was an orange poster that read: "Be Leah Strong." A fan had requested the poster be brought into the locker room for the defensive tackle who began the season on the practice squad due to a hamstring injury and because of his anxiety over 4-year-old daughter Leah's cancer prognosis. To his surprise, Still had been kept earlier in the day on the active game-day roster. In relief of an injured Brandon Thompson, he had three tackles.

'A good night': When reporters streamed into the Bengals' locker room, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was among the most jovial players they encountered. The backup defender was shouting at the top of his lungs: "Tonight's gonna be a good night." Those are lyrics from the Black Eyed Peas song "I Gotta Feeling." On special teams, Kirkpatrick played a key role in securing two fourth-quarter punts that were downed inside the Falcons' 4.

Shouting 'Gio!' On one second-quarter play, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was stuck behind some intense Falcons pressure and needed to get rid of the ball. So he shouted out "Gio!" to running back Giovani Bernard, who had just pulled away from a linebacker he was blocking in pass protection. Bernard said when he heard his name, he instinctively caught Dalton's improvisational screen pass. Bernard ended the broken play with a 46-yard reception.

Football trophy: Bengals rookie Jeremy Hill scored his first career touchdown in the third quarter when he plowed right behind defensive tackle Domata Peko (who was playing fullback) for a 1-yard score. Hill said he has the perfect place for the ball which he held on to -- his mom's mantel in New Orleans. She was in attendance Sunday. "I'll probably lose it or my dog will probably chew it up," Hill said, laughing.
CINCINNATI -- After all the injury intrigue this week, it appears the Cincinnati Bengals are going to go into Sunday's game quite close to full health.

 Pro Bowlers Vontaze Burfict, A.J. Green and Geno Atkins were the team's big question marks all this week, as each spent their first two practice days either not practicing at all or being held in a limited capacity.

On Friday, all three practiced, and all three did so fully.

It's a sign that bodes well for the Bengals entering Sunday afternoon's home opener against the Falcons. The news from Atlanta that rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews will miss the ballgame with an ankle injury also bodes well for Cincinnati.

Earlier this week, the prognosis wasn't very strong on Burfict and Atkins. A concussion picked up last Sunday sidelined Burfict every other day this week. He still is under concussion protocol, coach Marvin Lewis said Friday, but Burfict cleared enough of it to practice. He'll be evaluated Saturday. If he doesn't pass the concussion tests, he won't play.

Atkins also appears in line to play after a "feet" injury put him on the injury report all week. After spending Wednesday in street clothes, he went through Thursday and Friday's practices. Green ought to play this weekend, too, after nursing a foot injury the last few days. He took the day off Thursday but was working out Friday.

Veteran cornerback Terence Newman didn't practice after being limited Thursday. Lewis said he would be "fine." Newman was listed with a groin injury Thursday that must have come out of Wednesday's practice since he didn't make Wednesday's injury report.

It seems apparent that the 36-year-old Newman ends up playing.

Here's the full Friday injury report:

OUT
TE Tyler Eifert (elbow)
WR Marvin Jones (foot)

DOUBTFUL
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)
LB Sean Porter (knee)

QUESTIONABLE
LB Vontaze Burfict (concussion)

PROBABLE
WR A.J. Green (foot)
DE Carlos Dunlap (hamstring)
DT Geno Atkins (feet)
CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
DE Margus Hunt (ribs)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
OT Andre Smith (shoulder)
WR James Wright (concussion)
CB Terence Newman (groin)

Browns: We won't go all no-huddle

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
1:45
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BEREA, Ohio -- The no-huddle offense that was so successful for the Cleveland Browns in the second half of the season opener was in the plans all along.

“We kind of planned on going to it in the first half,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said Thursday. “We just didn’t stay on the field long enough, so we opened up the second half with it.”

 Which is interesting, because the way the game unfolded the no-huddle seemed a clear response to the Browns' first half struggles. Coach Mike Pettine even said it was used to start the second half as a change of pace.

“We thought it would be good,” Shanahan said. “It was a little better than anticipated. It was something that got them off-balance, tired them out a little bit. It tired us out too. When you do that that much, you get a little sloppy on both sides of the ball, but it ended up working out well for us -- got some points, got us going.”

To say the least.

Every single Browns offensive number went up in the second half, when they almost exclusively ran no-huddle as compared to the first half when they huddled on every play.

Yardage increased from 101 to 188 in each half, and the yards per play jumped from 4.2 to 7.2. Most important, the Browns scored 24 points with the no-huddle compared to three in the first half.

Despite the success, the Browns have no plans -- they say -- to go exclusively no-huddle.
“It’s a weapon,” Pettine said. “But it’s not our lifestyle.”

Pettine said the Browns can use it as a change of pace or a change in tempo. But he said the team’s focus during the week leading up to the Saints game was on refining its work in the base offense because they are running the same plays in the no-huddle.

“We have to be able to execute our base offense,” Pettine said. “It’s what we worked on all through the spring, all through training camp. We didn’t execute it very well in the first half, but that’s something that ... we’re not an up-tempo all the time team.”

A team like the Eagles built its roster with the hurry-up in, mind and the players are conditioned for it. The Browns, Pettine said, are not.

“That’s not the way we built this roster,” he said. “That’s not the way we worked from the beginning. Just because we had a good half of it doesn’t mean that we need to junk what we’re doing and go to no-huddle and not work on our base stuff.”

Gamesmanship? Perhaps.

Every NFL coach likes to keep the other team guessing, and if the Browns opponents spend a little extra time preparing for something the Browns might do, Pettine would not be at all disappointed.

The one thing that is true is the Browns have shown they can run the hurry-up, which gives an offense that needs any edge it can find one more possible edge.
CINCINNATI -- It started as just another run-of-the-mill catch.

Late in the first quarter of last week's game at Baltimore, Tyler Eifert, the Cincinnati Bengals' second-year tight end was adding a third reception to his season total when he turned toward the end zone, trying to elude defenders.

When he did, he awkwardly contorted his body as he slipped in and out of Ravens tackle attempts. As he stretched for more yards, Eifert subconsciously extended his right arm to brace his fall. That's when he heard the pop.

[+] EnlargeTyler Eifert
AP Photo/Nick WassTyler Eifert's dislocated elbow suffered in the opener against the Ravens will force him out of action until at least Week 10.
Immediately he clutched his elbow in agony, screaming as teammates furiously waved members of the training staff onto the field.

"I could feel that it wasn't right," Eifert said.

Cameras caught exactly what trainers saw when they reached the injured player. He had dislocated his elbow and needed it set back in place. Once it was, Eifert's pain calmed considerably, giving him a measure of relief.

As he made his first comments since last Sunday's injury on Friday, Eifert told reporters that to his knowledge he didn't suffer any other structural damage around his elbow, and that he and doctors continue to believe that he'll be fully healed by Nov. 6, when the Bengals host the Browns in a Thursday night showdown.

"That's what they say. I'm not a doctor," Eifert said. "I know it hurts right now, but I'm sure it'll get better and I'll be ready to go."

Like it has been since the injury happened, Eifert's arm was wrapped in a bandage and placed in a sling Friday. He said the arm has mostly been immobilized this week, and added that he has tried to extend it at times as he begins his rehab.

Placed Wednesday on short-term injured reserve, Eifert won't be allowed to practice until six weeks after the injury -- in other words, Week 7. Per rules of the IR with a designation to return, he also isn't allowed to play until Week 10.

Eifert said the injury occurred when he was trying to brace himself on the turf as he stretched for more yards on his 14-yard reception. He was told that had he landed with his arm straighter, he would have probably come out of the play injury-free. Instead, he landed with his arm open at a particular angle. It appears that's what caused the dislocation.

Cincinnati was expected to make Eifert a bigger part of its offense this season. His three catches for 37 yards through barely a quarter of play last week was a strong indication of that.

"With some of those plays, just the design of them puts the defense in a bind," Eifert said of how open he was getting. "You know how to cover it. It's just defense dictates where the ball's going. I happened to get the ball early. So it was good."

This injury also comes after Eifert battled shoulder issues all offseason and training camp. They became so bad in the preseason that he missed numerous practices and didn't play in the final three preseason games.

"Every time I feel like I'm getting back into it, something happens," Eifert said. "It is what it is. It happened. It's hard to make the most of an injury, but it's the situation I'm in right now. So just be positive and keep going."
CINCINNATI -- Tyler Eifert is the good, athletic fan favorite among the tight ends on the Cincinnati Bengals' roster.

Jermaine Gresham is the other guy. The one everybody loves to hate. The villain.

At least, that's the way Gresham sees it.

[+] EnlargeJermaine Gresham
Nick Wass/Associated PressJermaine Gresham will be expected to assume more of a receiving load with Tyler Eifert out.
"People want certain things to be a certain way and when things aren't a certain way, they don't like it and they voice their opinion," the fifth-year tight end said, speaking to reporters Thursday for the first and possibly last time this season.

Gresham is a private person. He doesn't like the attention that comes with a professional athlete's lifestyle. He tries to stay out of the spotlight. The main way he does that is by avoiding talks with those of us who are curious to hear his thoughts on playing in two-tight end sets or shouldering additional responsibilities with other playmakers lost to injury.

While he doesn't seek the attention that's bound to come his way regardless if he catches a touchdown pass or commits a false start penalty, Gresham does go out looking for what's said and written about him. He's probably reading this story right now.

It's his Achilles' heel. He's curious to know what people think about him. If it's good, he makes a mental note. If it's bad, he keeps track of that as well. He doesn't mind being hated, but he also wouldn't mind something else.

"I would like to be loved by a lot more people, but that's just the nature of the sport," Gresham said. "It comes and goes."

The good vibes fled Gresham completely on Sunday. During one second-quarter sequence, he likely had Bengals fans hurling more four-letter words at their television sets instead of throwing their hearts his way.

A quarter after Eifert went down with an elbow injury that eventually placed him on the short-term injured reserve -- the earliest he can play again is Nov. 6 against Cleveland -- Gresham frustrated many when he stopped at the end of a route at the goal line. With quarterback Andy Dalton moving to his left and throwing to a wide open space near the end zone, all Gresham had to do was continue his route another two steps before catching the ball and easing in untouched for a crucial goal-line score.

It didn't happen. The ball floated by as Gresham sat down on his route, expecting to set a block to free up another receiver.

"I'll take blame for that," Gresham said. "It was a concept that I read wrong. I should have kept going and it would have been a touchdown. I owe Andy one."

According to Gresham, he owes a lot more to his critics.

The people who he says are quick to point out that the Pro Bowl star next to his name comes with the "alternate" asterisk, are the same ones who want him collecting more yards and touchdowns than is feasible in the Bengals' system.

In his mind, fans want him to be a Jimmy Graham-type of tight end who goes "for like 1,300 yards, 20 TDs."

In an offense where A.J. Green is the star, Gresham might never even see a 1,000-yard, eight-touchdown season. While he actually isn't as bad as he might let on, Gresham isn't going to be an elite pass-catcher in this offense because there are too many other players who have to touch the football.

Still, he thinks that when people look at other class of 2010 tight ends like Graham and Rob Gronkowski, they believe Gresham could accomplish more.

But aside from those two no other tight end from the draft class has more receiving yards, receptions and touchdowns than Gresham. Since 2010, he's among the top 12 tight ends in the league in each of those categories.

That's still not enough for him.

"I kind of accept the villain role and just try to be a leader to guys like Tyler who are learning on the way," Gresham said. "As long as my teammates love me, I'm good."
CINCINNATI -- The war of words between the Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons has already started, and it doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon.

So don't be surprised if Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium if the two teams play with an edge that's uncommon for an early season, cross-conference matchup like this one.

[+] EnlargeAdam Jones
Patrick Semansky/Associated PressAdam Jones has been engaging in a war of words with Atlanta's Devin Hester this week.
Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, for a chippy game.

For the past two days, boastful barbs have been lobbed back and forth between the locker rooms as players on both teams have used the media to state their case at positional supremacy. Primarily, it's been two of the four men in Atlanta's talented receiving corps who felt compelled to respond to one of the players who will be charged with stopping them. Bengals cornerback and punt returner Adam Jones levied the first blow in this verbal battle on Wednesday.

"He's a good returner," said Jones about Atlanta's receiver/return specialist Devin Hester, "but he's not better than me. He played more games than me, way more games than me. I don't feel like there's anybody better than me when I'm right there. I've said that a long time before now."

Hester has an NFL-record 18 combined kick-return scores in 124 career games, including an NFL-record 13 punt-return touchdowns. Jones has five career punt-return scores in 85 career games. Last week, Hester had a kick return for 21 yards and gained a yard on a punt return. Jones had one punt return for 45 yards.

In the career sense, Hester was right. So how did he respond?

"Every return man is going to try and compare himself to me," Hester told ESPN's Vaughn McClure in Atlanta on Thursday. "That's just the way it is. If you look at the stats, I'm on the top of the list. So everybody, when it's time to play me, is going to try and want to be the next Devin Hester."

Added Falcons receiver Roddy White: "Oh my God. You're talking about a Hall of Famer and then [Jones]. I don't even know how many Pacman's got. It's like apples to oranges, man. Devin, everybody knows what he can do in the return game."

Even if they tried to laugh them off, the two Falcons clearly weren't happy with Jones' remarks.

Atlanta's cornerbacks might not like what Bengals receiver A.J. Green said Thursday while noting the considerable height difference between he and the cornerbacks who will go up against him. Green said, "those guys are chippy, man. Chippy little guys, like little gnats."

At 6-foot-4, Green is athletic with tremendous leaping ability. His likely matchups, Robert Alford and Robert McClain, are 5-10 and 5-9, respectively. The best way to beat them, Green said? To be physical.

It's much the same kind of physicality he said was necessary to handle Falcons safety William Moore, a "big, physical linebacker [type of] safety." Green said that when Moore is on the field a receiver or tight end must always be aware of where he is.

See? There's respect here despite all the mid-week trash talk. Players on both teams train together in the offseason, and their coaches have crossed paths several times before. Green also makes Atlanta his home in the offseason, and has been revered in the area since starring at Georgia. An East Point, Georgia, native, Jones also has strong ties to the area.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said it best when describing the relationships on both teams.

"I've got a lot of friendships with a lot of people, but this week we're competing," Lewis said. "We can go back to being friends next week again."

The players might be friendly at the end of Sunday's game, but this early war of words gives them reasons to be anything but during it.
CINCINNATI -- You're probably going to hear, read and see a lot the next few days comparing A.J. Green and Julio Jones.

The irony is, you've probably already heard, read and seen much of what will surface.

Green
 
Jones
 The two Pro Bowl receivers have been linked since they were in high school, when they were All-America standouts in their respective native states South Carolina and Alabama. In college, a sort of rivalry formed when they competed in the SEC. Green played at Georgia. Jones was at Alabama.

When the 2011 draft rolled around, the question wasn't if either would be top-10 draft picks. It was who was going to go first.

At No. 4, the Cincinnati Bengals were the first team on the draft board that year with a dire need for a receiver. The Atlanta Falcons, at No. 27, had enough of a need for another pass-catcher that they ended up jumping all the way to No. 6 when they pulled off a draft-night trade with the Browns.

Green was chosen by Cincinnati. Jones was the Falcons' choice with the sixth pick. The rest, as they say, is history.

One look at both their careers, and it's clear the moves worked out well for both teams. Upon examination of last season, it's clear Jones gave his team slightly better overall production than Green. This Thursday factoid delves into this number: 116.0.

That's the number of yards per game since last season that Jones has averaged. That figure is only outpaced by Josh Gordon, who averaged 117.6 yards per game for the Browns in 2013. Unlike Jones, Gordon hasn't played yet this season as he awaits a possible reversal of his yearlong suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Green isn't trailing Jones by much in the average yards per game since last season's statistic. The Bengals' star receiver has averaged 91.6 yards per game in that span. That includes his six-catch, 131-yard performance in Sunday's 23-16 win over the Ravens. Only Gordon, Jones, Calvin Johnson and Antonio Brown have higher per-game-averages in that time.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis didn't need to see those numbers nor those rankings to know how good both Green and Jones were.

"They were in the top four players we felt that year," Lewis said, referring to the draft. "We knew we were going to get a good player when we stayed at No. 4 and picked."

A case could be made that Green has had the more overall impact in his career. Injuries have been an issue at times for Jones, and they're the reason he's only appeared in 35 games as compared to Green's 48. Green has only missed one Bengals game in his career. He's trying to avoid making it two this week as he tries to recover from a foot injury that has slowed him so far this week. He was limited Wednesday because of it, and didn't practice at all Thursday.

How much more productive has Green been over Jones?

Green has caught 266 passes compared to Jones' 181. Green has 3,964 yards receiving, compared to Jones' 2,853. Green's 30 touchdowns overshadow Jones' 20. It would be interesting to see how much closer that gap would be if both had the same number of games played.

It also will be interesting to see how their stats compare Sunday when they square off in their first regular-season meeting.

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