Fearless Prediction: Bengals-Chargers

Game Snapshot

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET

SURFACE: Grass

TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The concern for the Bengals is the

startling lack of a downfield passing attack that has contributed

to the offense scoring just five touchdowns in its past 69 drives.

RB Cedric Benson is the engine, and the Chargers’ run defense is

soft up the middle as San Diego is on its fourth different starting

nose tackle. But Bengals QB Carson Palmer must find reliable

targets outside of WR Chad Ochocinco. Chargers QB Philip Rivers is

third in the NFL with 13 completions of 40-plus yards, and there

will be a compelling matchup as he works against the Bengals’

excellent young secondary.

FAST FACTS: The Bengals have committed 38 penalties over the

past four games. … San Diego has an eight-game winning streak and

has won 16 consecutive games in December.

Personnel News

Bengals:

  • DT Tank Johnson was limited in practice because of a foot

    injury. He is expected to play on Sunday.

     

  • RB Brian Leonard had full participation despite being listed

    with a calf injury. He is expected to play on Sunday.

     

  • HB Bernard Scott was limited in practice because of turf toe.

    His status for the rest of the week is 50-50.

     

  • CB Morgan Trent had full participation despite being listed

    with a knee injury.

     

  • S Kyries Hebert had full participation despite being listed

    with a knee injury.

     

Chargers:

  • OLB Shawne Merriman (foot) didn’t work for the second

    straight day. He probably will start Sunday, but his play could

    be limited.

     

  • WR Legedu Naanee (foot) didn’t practice after working on

    Wednesday.

     

  • C Nick Hardwick (ankle) didn’t practice and won’t play this

    week.

     

  • CB Quentin Jammer (toe) practiced and will start Sunday.

     

  • OLB Shaun Phillips (ankle) practiced after resting Wednesday,

    and will start Sunday.

     

  • S Eric Weddle (knee) practiced and will start after missing

    two games.

     

  • P Mike Scifres (groin) worked and is fine.

     

Inside The Camps

Bengals:

The Bengals have already dealt with plenty of adversity with

the death of the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and the

tsunamis in American Samoa, which affected the team’s Samoan

players.

But nothing can prepare a team or organization for what they

faced on Thursday morning — the death of one of their own.

Chris Henry, 26, died Thursday at 6:36 a.m. in Charlotte,

N.C., after suffering head injuries in an accident on Wednesday.

Carson Palmer informed the team of Henry’s passing before their 10

a.m. walkthrough.

Palmer was one of Henry’s most vocal supporters, often

calling him Randy Moss Jr. during off-season interviews. The

quarterback and receiver even shared a ride to training camp in

Georgetown, Ky.

“Chris was a guy that I believe and our team believes was

heavily misunderstood,” Palmer said. “There was a lot of

speculation about who he was, but the only guys that knew Chris and

knew how good of a heart he had, how kind he was, how gentle he

was, are the guys in our locker room, the guys who were close to

him, his family.”

To honor Henry during Sunday’s game at San Diego, the team

will wear a helmet decal with Henry’s number and coaches will wear

pins that look like the decal. Plans for Henry’s funeral were

unknown.

Almost everyone spoke about how Henry’s public persona,

which was known more for the five arrests in 28 months from 2005-08

than his on-field ability, was different than the person they knew

in the locker room.

The most devastated in the locker room was Chad Ochocinco,

who had tears in his eyes as he described his last conversation

with Henry, which happened Tuesday night. They discussed last

Sunday’s game at Minnesota and Henry offered some words of

encouragement.

Ochocinco wore a No. 15 jersey during Thursday’s practice at

Paul Brown Stadium.

“He was doing everything right, he was doing everything

right,” 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.”

On Nov. 9, after what looked to be a season of much promise,

Henry’s season prematurely ended after eight games when he

fractured his left forearm during the second quarter against

Baltimore. He finished the season with 12 receptions for 236 yards

and two touchdowns.

Before the injury, coach Marvin Lewis saw Henry as the

happiest he had been in a while. In the week leading up to the Oct.

25 game against Chicago, Henry had been suffering from the flu and

was not in the team hotel the night before the game. But Henry

started to feel better on Saturday and came to the stadium on

Sunday ready to work.

“I watched him work out on the field and they didn’t really

do much but stand and catch. I said no, no, I need to see him run,”

Lewis said. “So he ran routes — Jordan (Palmer) I think was

throwing — and he came over and sat with me on the photographer’s

stand at the end of the end zone and he said ‘Coach, I feel better

than I’ve felt in the last month.’ I said, ‘You know what? You look

that way, so you suit up today.’

“And just the grin on his face because again, when Chris

spoke and talked, you got to see the genuine person. And a lot of

times Chris was very quiet and he let everybody speak for him too

much. And until Chris turned the corner is when he began to speak

up himself and distance himself from the people that were dragging

him down and express his real thoughts and feelings. And I thought

that day, he did that.”

Henry had two receptions for 26 yards in that game, a 45-10

Bengals victory, including a 9-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

Henry was in Cincinnati last weekend for an exam by the

team’s medical staff. With no rehabilitation for his injury beyond

periodic adjustments of his cast, he was cleared at that point to

return to Charlotte.

Henry was drafted by the Bengals in the third round in 2005.

He was known as a player with immense talent, but his promise was

marred by legal problems and three NFL suspensions totaling 14

games.

During his first three seasons, his run-ins with the law

included drug charges to gun possession and DUI. He served jail

time for drinking in a Covington hotel room with underage girls. He

was remembered more for that than his game-changing touchdowns or

the team-leading nine TDs he scored in 2006.

Born May 17, 1983, Henry’s five-year totals were 119

receptions for 1,826 yards and 21 touchdowns in 55 games.

How the team responds in Sunday’s game against the Chargers

along with the three remaining regular-season games remains to be

seen. Lost in all the tragedy is the fact that the 9-4 Bengals

would clinch the AFC North with a win over San Diego or a loss by

Baltimore. The game also has the second seed in the AFC on the line

and a possible first-round bye.

Chargers:

Two Chargers of note — but not very well known — were able

to practice on Thursday.

Defensive linemen Alfonso Boone (knee) and Travis Johnson

(groin) both worked at the same time for the first time in nearly

two weeks.

Boone missed last week’s game in Dallas; Johnson usually

takes one day of a week to rest his ailment.

The Chargers figure to need all their defensive linemen when

facing the visiting Bengals on Sunday. Boone, at end, and Johnson,

at tackle, being available has to help.

With the Bengals featuring a running game with Cedric Benson

and old San Diego foe Larry Johnson at the ready, the Chargers are

expecting Cincinnati to stay on the ground.

That not only keeps the Chargers’ potent offense on the

sidelines, but it also attacks San Diego’s biggest weakness.

The Chargers are ranked No. 21 against the run, an area they

have had trouble shoring up since losing Pro Bowl defensive tackle

Jamal Williams in the season-opener.

But the run-stoppers got a dose of confidence when stopping

the Cowboys on a goal-line stand, stopping them on three straight

rushing players from the 1. That same unit will be tested again

Sunday.

PREDICTION: Chargers 24-17