Larry Johnson(notes) would like to help immediately after signing with the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals. His experience playing in Oakland and Cedric Benson’s(notes) sore hip may allow him to do so.
Following another big win, the Bengals could get their newly signed former Pro Bowl running back involved earlier than expected as they try to end their road struggles against the Raiders on Sunday.
After going 4-11-1 last season, Cincinnati (7-2) is in command atop the AFC North. The Bengals beat Pittsburgh 18-12 last Sunday, giving them four total wins over the Steelers and Baltimore.
“It’s scary because everybody’s going to be patting us on the back, telling us how good we are,” quarterback Carson Palmer(notes) said. “We’re not good enough to win the Super Bowl right now. We have a long way to go. We’re not good enough to make a dominant playoff run, we have a long way to go.”
The Bengals appear to have a good opportunity to extend a three-game winning streak, as they face teams with a combined four victories over the next three weeks. Cincinnati, though, has lost four straight and 13 of 14 road matchups with the Raiders (2-7), including two playoff defeats.
However, the Bengals are rolling, and they now have a running back who knows Oakland well. Johnson was signed Tuesday to back up Benson after being banished from Kansas City for bad behavior.
Johnson would like to play as quickly as possible, and he may get his wish versus the Raiders. He has never lost at Oakland, rushing for 498 yards and five touchdowns in five games there, and Benson is nursing a strained hip.
“I’m not saying that it can’t happen, I’m not saying that it will happen, but stay tuned,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. “He’d like to play, I know that. And we’ll see what happens as we go through the week, as I said earlier, regarding Cedric with his injury.”
Johnson was signed eight days after the Chiefs released him following his second suspension in 12 months. He was benched for three games in 2008 by former coach Herm Edwards for violating team rules, and later sentenced to two years’ probation after pleading guilty to disturbing the peace at a bar in Kansas City.
Three weeks ago, Johnson was suspended for two weeks after posting a gay slur on his Twitter account.
Johnson, who had back-to-back 1,700-yard seasons for Kansas City in 2005 and ’06, is the latest player with a history of trouble to be given a chance by the Bengals.
Benson was signed to one-year deal last season despite two alcohol-related arrests in Texas. Grand juries declined to indict, and the cases were dropped.
Benson has gone on to revitalize his career in Cincinnati, ranking sixth in the NFL in rushing with 859 yards. He had 22 yards on seven carries versus the Steelers before leaving due to the hip injury.
Raiders coach Tom Cable has faced his own legal troubles. He had charges dropped against him Oct. 23 for an alleged assault on a former assistant.
His biggest problem right now is trying to decide on a starting quarterback. He benched JaMarcus Russell(notes) twice in the last three games, and has yet to determine whether the 2007 No. 1 overall draft pick, Bruce Gradkowski(notes) or Charlie Frye(notes) will start against the Bengals.
“I’m just waiting to kind of put all my facts together here and make a good decision for this team,” Cable said. “It will be focused on winning, period, what gives us the best chance to win.”
Russell was pulled late in the third quarter of last Sunday’s 16-10 loss to Kansas City after going 8 for 23 for 64 yards. Gradkowski replaced him and was picked off twice before straining a hamstring.
Russell was also taken out in the first half of a 38-0 loss to the New York Jets on Oct. 25. He has struggled all season, throwing two touchdowns with nine interceptions and a 47.1 completion percentage.
Gradkowski, signed by Oakland in the offseason, has started 12 games in his career. Cable, though, said the fourth-year veteran’s injury may keep him from playing.
Cable hasn’t ruled out the possibility of starting Frye, the team’s emergency quarterback all season. Frye has 20 career starts - 13 with Cleveland in 2006.
Whoever starts under center for the Raiders will lead a team that is 31st in the league with 9.8 points per game.
Oakland lost 27-10 at Cincinnati in the clubs’ most recent meeting Dec. 10, 2006. The Raiders had won three straight against the Bengals.