Bengals-Chargers Preview

Following the stunning death of receiver Chris Henry, the

Cincinnati Bengals will take the field with heavy hearts – a

situation all too familiar to them this season.

The Bengals face the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, three days

after Henry died from injuries sustained from falling out of the

back of a pickup truck during what police said was a domestic

dispute with his fiancee.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said Henry died at 6:36 a.m.

Thursday. He was 26.

“We knew him in a different way than his public persona,”

Bengals owner Mike Brown said of the player who was suspended five

times during his career. “He had worked through the troubles in his

life and had finally seemingly reached the point where everything

was going to blossom. And he was going to have the future we all

wanted for him. It’s painful to us. We feel it in our hearts, and

we will miss him.”

Police spokeswoman Rosalyn Harrington said homicide detectives

have been assigned to the case but had no further information.

Henry was rushed to the hospital Wednesday after being found on

a residential road. Police said the dispute began at a home about a

half-mile away, and Henry jumped into the bed of the pickup truck

as his fiancee was driving away from the residence.

“He was doing everything right,” teammate Chad Ochocinco said.

“My grandma always says you never question the man upstairs on

decisions he makes. Everyone makes mistakes, but I don’t see how

Chris was supposed to go already, especially when he was on the

right path. Other than that, he’s going to be missed.”

It is the second time death has stung the Bengals this year, as

the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer died unexpectedly in

October.

When the players received word Henry had died, quarterback

Carson Palmer called them together in the locker room and said they

should dedicate the game and rest of the season to Henry and

Zimmer’s wife.

The teary Bengals held a somber practice Thursday, with

Ochocinco wearing Henry’s white No. 15 practice jersey.

The mourning Bengals, who can lock up the AFC North title with a

victory, take on a Chargers team that has won eight straight and is

looking to secure its fourth straight postseason appearance.

Though it has LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles in the

backfield, San Diego (10-3) has had trouble running the ball. Led

by quarterback Philip Rivers, though, the Chargers are averaging

27.8 points per game and can clinch a postseason spot with a win

over the Bengals (9-4).

San Diego can also secure first place in the AFC West with a

Denver loss to Oakland, or with a victory and a Broncos tie. The

Chargers will have a first-round bye if they beat the Bengals and

Denver and New England lose or tie.

“The first goal that you have, obviously, is to win your

division, which we still have some work to do to get that done,”

Rivers said. “But you want to just get in. This game this weekend

will allow that to happen if we go out and play well and win the

game. … We win this game and we can be assured of playing past

Jan. 3.”

Rivers passed for 272 yards and a touchdown in San Diego’s 20-17

victory at Dallas last Sunday.

Tomlinson extended his NFL record of consecutive 10-touchdown

seasons to nine, but he had 50 yards on 21 carries and is averaging

a career-worst 3.2 yards per rush. The Chargers are 31st in the NFL

in rushing at 87.5 yards a game, although that is due in part to

the team shifting its offensive focus to the passing game.

San Diego is tied for 15th in the league with 26.9 rushes per

game. With a pass-first approach, the Chargers are averaging 266.8

passing yards – fifth in the NFL.

Six of the top seven passing teams in the league are in playoff

position. Five are division leaders and two are undefeated.

The top four rushing teams, meanwhile, currently sit outside the

playoff picture. Cincinnati ranks sixth in that category with 132.8

rushing yards a contest, and that has powered them to within a win

of securing the division crown.

The Bengals’ commitment to the running game, however, has

exposed a weakness over the past month: Being so intent on gaining

yards on the ground puts them out of sync when they need to

throw.

With their rushing attack contained, Palmer was held to 94 yards

through the air in a 30-10 defeat to Minnesota last Sunday. The

Bengals failed to win their third straight and lost for the second

in four games.

“I don’t know if we’re going to change what we do,” Palmer said.

“We’re on the top of our division and still can control our

destiny. After one loss, there’s no reason to say, ‘All right,

we’re going to become a passing football team,’ because we’re a

running football team.”

Cincinnati was held to fewer than 100 yards passing for the

second time in three games. It beat Cleveland 16-7 on Nov. 29

despite gaining 96 yards through the air.

Cincinnati reached 200 yards passing once in its last five

games. Ochocinco is the only consistent downfield threat, drawing

extra coverage as a result. Laveranues Coles has not been able to

take advantage, catching 33 passes in 13 games.

Even though the Bengals had little trouble throwing the ball in

their last matchup with the Chargers, it wasn’t enough. San Diego

scored 42 points in the second half of a 49-41 win Nov. 12, 2006,

as Rivers’ shovel pass into the end zone with 2:29 left completed

one of the Chargers’ greatest comebacks.

Ochocinco set a team record with 260 yards and two long

touchdowns, and Palmer passed for a career-best 440 yards and three

TDs.

Rivers threw for 338 yards and three scores. Tomlinson had four

TDs, rushed for 104 yards and caught six passes for 54 yards.

Tomlinson is having his worst season, but his ability to find

the end zone has kept defenses honest in goal-line situations. His

136 career rushing TDs, all since 2001, match Emmitt Smith’s record

for most in a single decade.

Smith had 136 of his NFL-record 164 scores from 1990-99.