Ochocinco leads surging Bengals into Oakland

Chad Ochocinco sent deodorant to the Baltimore Ravens before a key AFC North showdown to pump himself up for the big game.

The fun-loving Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver wanted to send mustard to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week because they would never “ketchup” in the game before coach Marvin Lewis nixed that idea.

With a game against the struggling Oakland Raiders next up on Cincinnati’s schedule, Ochocinco has no plans for any gimmicks.

“I’m just coming to give the Black Hole the best show they’ve ever seen,” he said. “I’m not sure if they’ve really had much to look forward to this year. But man, we’re coming to town. It will for sure be a circus.”

Coming off emotional victories over Chicago, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, it would only be natural if the Bengals (7-2) came down a little bit emotionally heading into Sunday’s game against the Raiders (2-7).

With home games against Cleveland (1-8) and Detroit (1-8) to follow, this is by far the easiest stretch of Cincinnati’s schedule. Winning these three games will be crucial in the Bengals‘ bid to win the division and earn a first-round playoff bye.

“We’re supposed to beat these type of teams,” safety Chris Crocker said. “That’s how we approach it. This could be one of those games where people expect the Cincinnati Bengals to fall flat on our faces.”

The Bengals were in the Raiders‘ position the past few years, looking to play spoiler against a contender at the end of yet another lost season. Cincinnati even finished a half-game behind the Raiders a year ago, before turning it around behind a revamped defense and revived running game led by Cedric Benson.

That revival gives hope to the Raiders, who are in the midst of an even longer stretch of ineptitude. Oakland is on pace for its seventh straight 11-loss season, extending its own record for futility.

“It’s kind of one of those things where you look at them and say, ‘If they can do it, why can’t we do it,”‘ left tackle Mario Henderson said. “And we can do it. So like I say, every year is different. It’s just what we have to do here to get better.”

The first change is coming at quarterback: Bruce Gradkowski will replace struggling former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell. Russell has completed just 46.8 percent of his passes this season, with nine interceptions and five lost fumbles and the second-worst passer rating in the league at 47.7.

Coach Tom Cable hopes Gradkowski provides a needed spark to an offense that has managed just 88 points through nine games and has not scored two touchdowns in a game since losing the season opener 24-20 to San Diego.

Gradkowski beat the Bengals in his second career start for Tampa Bay in 2006. He has started only once since that rookie season, but has replaced an ineffective Russell in two of the last three games.

It’s on defense where the Raiders concern the Bengals. Oakland has at times been dominating on defense, most notably shutting down Philadelphia’s high-powered offense last month. But then there are times where teams have run right through the Raiders like the New York Jets did the following week.

“I can’t for the life of me understand how they are not winning,” Ochocinco said. “I don’t get it. Because what I see on film, the record does not show. Because they look a lot better than their record shows, so I’m not understanding what’s going on.”

The most intriguing matchup on Sunday will be Ochocinco against Raiders man-to-man cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Chris Johnson.

It was a game against the Bengals that boosted Asomugha’s reputation in 2006, when he intercepted two passes in a loss at Cincinnati. Now almost everyone around the league knows how tough Asomugha is and he is rarely thrown against. Ochocinco began scouting Asomugha as soon as the schedule came out, preparing for this matchup.

“He is the best,” Ochocinco said. “I’m not going to sit here and play around about it. I’ve watched him on film.”

Ochocinco managed 101 yards receiving the last time he faced Oakland, with much of the damage coming against Fabian Washington. As much as Ochocinco wants to go up against Asomugha on Sunday, he will also figure to get plenty of time against Johnson.

Johnson said he has to prepare for Ochocinco’s notorious mouth as much as his moves.

“It will be fun,” Johnson said. “People that talk like that sometimes, you talk back, you get them off their game. He’s been talking ever since I’ve been playing football. It’s going to be a real fun show this Sunday.”