In a matchup of struggling teams featuring top receivers, Houshmandzadeh and the Bengals look to win two straight and tie their season series with Edwards and the AFC North rival Browns when the teams meet Sunday.
Cincinnati (2-11-1) and Cleveland (4-10) have struggled despite boasting some of the league’s best receiving threats. The Bengals team Chad Ocho Cinco with Houshmandzadeh at wide receiver, while the Browns complement tight end Kellen Winslow with Edwards at wideout.
Both teams, though, have suffered injuries at quarterback, so they haven’t been able to utilize their passing game to its fullest potential. Neither team has a receiver in the Pro Bowl.
Next year, Cincinnati and Cleveland might be looking for different options.
On Wednesday, Houshmandzadeh said that he thinks this season will be the last the Bengals will have with their most prolific receiving duo of all time intact. He doesn’t believe Cincinnati will put the franchise tag on him in free agency.
Houshmandzadeh, named a second alternate for the AFC in the Pro Bowl, leads the NFL with 31 third-down catches and is eight receptions shy of 100 for the second straight season even though starting quarterback Carson Palmer has played in just four games.
Next season, Houshmandzadeh believes he’ll get the recognition he deserves.
“That’s OK. I’ll go next year,” Houshmandzadeh said of his Pro Bowl snub. “I’ll go next year, wherever I am.”
Edwards is signed through the 2009 season, but the star seems unhappy and Cleveland is certain to make plenty of changes in the offseason.
Edwards has been plagued by drops all season, leading the NFL with 16, but he had five catches for 102 yards in Cleveland’s 30-10 loss to Philadelphia on Monday night. The toll of the Browns’ fourth straight defeat showed after the game, with Edwards expressing his displeasure with Cleveland fans and reporters.
“I could care less about fans, media, people talking about trading me … I’ve got a job to do. My job is to catch the football,” he said.
Later he added, “I’ve learned being here that I’m very unappreciated. Not in the organization, just in the eyes of the fans, the city. Since Day One I’ve been a marked man coming from Michigan. It’s just gone that way. Even when things are good, there’s heckles.”
After catching 16 TD passes in 2007, Edwards has three this season. The Browns have 10 losses one year after they won 10 games behind a potent offense.
“This season has not gone the way that I wanted it to go … but it is what it is,” Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel said. “It’s disappointing. It’s frustrating.”
Quarterbacks Derek Anderson (knee) and Brady Quinn (finger) are out for the season, and Ken Dorsey has been unable to get the Browns into the end zone in two games. Recently signed backup QB Bruce Gradkowski doesn’t have a full comprehension of the playbook, so he isn’t a strong option to start Sunday.
“Shaun Rogers has come in here even though some people felt like that he wasn’t a good fit, didn’t have the right attitude, didn’t play hard all the time, but he’s come in here and done a great job for us,” Crennel said. “He’s had a great attitude and I’m glad to see that he’s able to get recognition for what he’s done.”
Cincinnati won’t have any representatives at the Pro Bowl. The Bengals, though, have a chance to win two in a row for the first time since taking their final two games last season after upsetting Washington 20-13 last Sunday.
“There are reasons for our record,” Ocho Cinco said. “Not to make those excuses, but they’re visual to the naked eye. I’m sure some of those things will be cleaned up and fixed. We have needs in areas which I’m sure will be addressed in the offseason. I don’t know what those are particularly. Every team has needs. Other than that I think we’ll come back as the Bengals of old, what people are used to seeing.”
Ocho Cinco and Houshmandzadeh had a combined six catches for 52 yards versus the Redskins, but quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had one of his best games of the season. Fitzpatrick, starting in place of Carson Palmer (elbow), completed 16 of 29 passes for 209 yards and a TD without throwing a pick.
Fitzpatrick’s 79-yard screen pass to Cedric Benson gave the Bengals their longest play of the season and set up a score. He also scored from the 1-yard line on a bootleg, going in untouched.
Fitzpatrick was intercepted three times in Cincinnati’s 20-12 loss to Cleveland on Sept. 28. Winslow led all players with 54 yards receiving.
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