Chad Johnson won’t guarantee a win this time. It’s hard to do when no team has come close to beating the opponent in nearly two months.
Trying to prevent a team from going 10-0 for the second time in three years, Johnson and the Cincinnati Bengals look to prove they’re in the same class with the Indianapolis Colts as the teams meet at Paul Brown Stadium.
Indianapolis is the first team to open 9-0 since Kansas City in 2003. That run by the Chiefs was halted by the Bengals, who entered the game with a 4-5 record but came away with a 24-19 win.
“There’s a lot more at stake,” Bengals left tackle Levi Jones said. “There’s a lot more riding on it than when we played Kansas City.”
Johnson guaranteed a Cincinnati win before that game, but is making no such promise this week.
“There’s no need to guarantee a victory. No point,” the AFC’s leading receiver said. “We’re 7-2. We’re one of the best teams in the NFL right now, so there’s no need for me to go out on a limb like that. Two of the best teams are getting ready to match up.”
No team has opened 10-0 since the Denver Broncos in 1998, and the Colts haven’t had a close game since a 13-6 win over Cleveland on Sept. 25. Their last six games have been decided by 14 points or more, a stretch during which Peyton Manning has thrown 15 of his 17 touchdown passes.
“This team has done a good job of playing to our best level of football and doing it week in and week out,” Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said. “That’s quite hard, but we’ve continued to do that.”
After 14 straight seasons without a winning record, the Bengals are seeking their first 8-2 start since Boomer Esiason led them to the Super Bowl in 1988.
The Bengals have their work cut out for them against a Colts offense that has hit its stride.
Following an emotional 40-21 win at New England on Nov. 7, Indianapolis posted a 31-17 home victory over Houston last week.
Peyton Manning threw for 297 yards and three touchdowns, and Marvin Harrison caught seven passes for 108 yards. Manning’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Harrison made them the first duo in NFL history to account for 10,000 yards. The tandem has 755 completions for 10,034 yards and 90 touchdowns—all NFL records.
“In this offense, it can be anyone’s day,” said Manning, the league’s two-time MVP. “But when you see it on film, we do spread it around. … It can put the defense in a bind.”
Johnson and Carson Palmer are beginning to draw comparisons to the Manning-Harrison tandem, and this game gives them a great opportunity to show they’re worthy of such praise. While Johnson tops the AFC with 808 receiving yards and has five touchdowns, Palmer is fifth in the NFL with 2,285 passing yards and has thrown a league-leading 18 TD passes.
Manning, meanwhile, must beware of a Cincinnati defense which tops the league with 20 interceptions. With the Bengals being much better against the pass than the run, Dungy could often go to Edgerrin James in the early going so he can set the tone and open up the passing attack.
James tops the AFC with 1,027 rushing yards and has tied a team record by rushing for at least 100 in five straight games. He also ran for a touchdown for a fifth straight game last week against Houston.
The Bengals, meanwhile, are coming off a bye. Of their seven wins this season, only one came against a team that is currently above .500 (Chicago). Their two losses came to teams with winning records—Jacksonville and Pittsburgh.
“We’ve been playing good, but we’re going to have to step up our intensity,” Bengals guard Bobbie Williams said. “The intensity level heightens. Everything is like it’s in fast-forward. We’re playing hard now, which is good, but we’re going to have to step it up another notch and play like that consistently.”