Bengals patching depleted defense for Jets
Fred Bennett texted his mother on Tuesday morning, telling her he'll have to miss Thanksgiving dinner with the family.
No turkey and sides. He'll be covering NFL receivers instead.
Bennett flew to Cincinnati and signed with a Bengals team so desperate for players that it's taking cornerbacks who have been out of football for weeks. Bennett hasn't played since San Diego released him six weeks ago. Now, he's got a chance to play against the Jets (8-2) on Thanksgiving night.
''It beats being at home and sitting around,'' Bennett said, after wheeling a small piece of luggage to his new locker, the one without a nameplate at the top.
The Bengals (2-8) lost cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safeties Chris Crocker and Roy Williams - all starters - during a 49-31 loss to Buffalo on Sunday. Backup cornerback Brandon Ghee also hurt his groin, forcing the Bengals to consider using a receiver in the defensive secondary to finish the game.
The bad news doesn't stop there. Quarterback Carson Palmer was walking around with a protective boot on his left foot Tuesday, held out of practice in what he termed a precaution.
''This has definitely been an interesting year all-around,'' said Palmer, who aggravated his foot injury Sunday. ''With all the guys that are down and especially the handful of new guys that are here to play in our secondary this week, it's definitely interesting. It's definitely a big challenge for us.''
Crocker is out for the season with a torn ligament in his right knee. Williams isn't practicing because of a concussion. Joseph wore a protective boot Tuesday on his right foot, which he reinjured while making an interception.
Not very encouraging.
''Hopefully, I can play on Thursday, first and foremost, but I'm just trying to get better day by day,'' Joseph said.
In the meantime, the Bengals are taking whomever they can find.
They signed cornerback Jonathan Wade on Monday. Wade played the first eight games with Detroit, which released him on Nov. 10. He was the Rams' third-round choice in 2007.
A day later, Cincinnati signed Bennett, who was Houston's fourth-round pick in 2007. He was released by the Texans during training camp and claimed by the Lions off waivers. For the last six weeks, he's been waiting for a chance.
''I've just been working out in South Carolina,'' he said. ''It can be aggravating. It can get to you if you let it, but you've got to keep the mindset that somebody's going to call, somebody's going to like me. I got the call yesterday.''
The Bengals were outscored 35-0 in the second half by the Bills, who took full advantage of their depleted secondary. Ryan Fitzpatrick matched his career high with four touchdown passes. The Jets are likely to try to pick on them as well.
''Both guys have had some experience and have actually been pretty quick studies thus far on getting lined up and making calls and doing the things they have to do just to play their position and beyond,'' coach Marvin Lewis said. ''So that's good. We obviously have to formulate a plan that doesn't overly tax or stress them mentally.''
Palmer has missed practice with the sore foot. Palmer and Lewis said he'll be able to play against the Jets, who knocked Cincinnati out of the playoffs last season.
The loss to Buffalo guaranteed the Bengals' 18th non-winning record in the last 20 seasons, a huge comedown for the defending AFC North champions. Last year, they won the division while dealing with the deaths of receiver Chris Henry and the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
In some ways, this one has been tougher.
''I've never had a season like this,'' Palmer said. ''Just talking with guys on team - nobody's experienced anything like this. We thought last year presented challenges with the personal losses we had, but this year has just been extraordinary.''