CINCINNATI – As Chad Ochocinco(notes) balances three mobile phones, his favorite combination at J. Alexander's (steak and salmon), an entourage of seven sitting at the bar and a half-dozen women who approach him in differing states of inebriation asking for his autograph (if not more), there is only one thing that gets him truly excited.
It also may get fans, players and coaches in other NFL cities excited.
Jets on Sunday night at Giants Stadium.
"I haven't had a challenge like this since Week 1 of the season," the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver said. "No disrespect to anybody I've played, but Week 1 was Champ [Bailey]. Week 2 was Green Bay and that was tough, but nothing like this since then. Nothing.
"If [Bengals coach] Marvin [Lewis] takes me out of this game, I'm going to be pissed. I'm serious – pissed. I want to play in this game. This is a show, the big time. … Man, you get to play
against somebody this good, to show your stuff, that's what gets me [extremely excited]."
The Bengals aren't just playing for their own interests Sunday night (momentum and seeding being the two obvious ones). They'll have a huge impact on another team because beating the Jets would allow someone else to get in as a wild card.
Folks with a rooting or direct economic interest in the teams from Denver, Houston, Pittsburgh, Miami and Jacksonville will be paying close attention. If Ochocinco plays, that means the
Bengals have a better chance to win and ultimately help get their team into the postseason. If the Bengals don't play hard – which head coach Marvin Lewis has said publicly they will – it will harken to similar situations.
The Colts have already played a part in getting the Jets to this point; they
pulled several starters in the second half of New York's 29-15 win last Sunday. Much of the controversy over that game has revolved around Indianapolis turning away from a chance to go undefeated. But the other part is that it allowed the Jets to have control of their playoff chances.
In fact, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley(notes) said earlier this week that he thinks Cincinnati and the New England Patriots will try to lose this week in an effort to keep the defending champion
. While conspiracy theorists around the NFL will weigh in on that all week, Lewis said that's not the case with the Bengals.
"We're going to go win the football game," Lewis said Wednesday when asked if his approach to the game will depend upon results from earlier in the day Sunday. He repeated that when the question was rephrased and then went into detail about why he thinks teams can't turn it on or off at this point in the season.
won a lot of games when I was with the Steelers in the early '90s. We won a lot of games, but we didn't turn it on or off. One time we didn't play [all of our starters] and got beat by the same team in the championship game. I don't know whether that has a bearing on things. You don't know. It's three weeks removed from that. This football team, I don't believe can turn it on and off because we're not mature enough. We started the season with the second-youngest football team in the NFL, and I don't think
we've gotten older over the season. Some of our older players are no longer playing.
"That's the great part of this football team – its newness, its freshness, its ability to handle the task at hand. That's the challenge all the time for them. They're able to focus in on the task at hand and go to work."
Lewis even mocked the idea that losing to the Jets might be wise because the Bengals would almost certainly face them in the first round of the playoffs (the Bengals' chances of finishing with the
third seed in the AFC, if they are tied with New England, is extremely distant). Thus, the Bengals could face Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes) (he of the 12 touchdown passes to 20 interceptions) rather than someone like Joe Flacco(notes) of Baltimore, Ben Roethlisberger(notes) of Pittsburgh, Matt Schaub(notes) of Houston or even Kyle Orton(notes) of Denver.
Sounds appealing, no?
"Laydown? Child please!!" Lewis wrote in a text message.
That said, most people around the Bengals expect the team to take a pragmatic approach to
their second playoff game in the past 19 seasons.