Sunday a Must-Win for Bengals?

Opening games aren't usually as critical as they are for the Bengals this Sunday

OK, so there's no such thing as a must win, especially on kickoff weekend, but if there were, the Bengals face that situation Sunday at Cleveland.

In trying to snap the franchise's 14-year playoff drought, the 2005 Bengals open against a team - simply put - that they should beat. The Browns have overhauled their roster but don't appear yet to have caught onto coach Romeo Crennel's 3-4 defensive scheme.

The game is a division matchup on the road for the Bengals. If they want to make the playoffs, they have to improve on their 2-4 AFC North record, and a sweep of the Browns would be almost a necessity.

In two seasons under Lewis, the Bengals have not won an opener and they have a pair of matching 1-4 record to start both 2003 and 2004.
Getting off to a fast start, along with "Do your job," have been Lewis' twin messages to his player and the entire organization during the off-season.

"There's no such thing. It's not a must-win game," Lewis said. "It's the first game of the year. As I said, we'll see what a fast start means. We get to write the script."

Carson Palmer will become the first Bengals quarterback to start consecutive openers since Jeff Blake in 1996-97.

"I like to think of every game as a must-win, whether it's your first or last," he said when asked about the pressure he faces. "But it's a huge game. The first game there's so much excitement built around opening weekend. Just to get off on the right foot and be able to go home with a win under your belt, going into the second game, gives you a ton of confidence.

"Not to say you can't win a Super Bowl if you lose the first game. But it definitely gets the season kicked off the right way and gets everybody's heads in the right spot and makes Week 2 a lot easier."

For the record, the Bengals face the Vikings on Sept. 18 in their home opener but then have three of their following four games on the road.

SERIES HISTORY: 64th meeting. Browns lead 33-30, including 20-11 in Cleveland. The last meeting between the teams, a 58-48 Bengals victory in Cincinnati, produced the second-most single-game points in league history: 106. It was the highest scoring game since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

DELTHA ROLLERCOASTER: Bengals cornerback Deltha O'Neal experienced one of his season highs and one of its lows in the two games last season against the Browns. In the season's fifth game, at Cleveland, O'Neal was beaten for the 99-yard Jeff Garcia touchdown pass to Andre' Davis. Last in the season, in Game 11, O'Neal's 31-yard interception return for a touchdown iced a wild 58-48 Bengals victory over the Browns in Cincinnati. It was the second-highest scoring game in NFL history. The highest scoring was in 1966: Washington 72, Giants 41.

BROWNS BACK FROM NEW ORLEANS: Cornerback Greg Brooks was back at work Wednesday after a successful trip home to New Orleans to find his closest family members. He found all seven of his immediate family members alive and well.

Though his property was destroyed by floods wrought by Hurricane Katrina, Brooks found his mother and young son in Baton Rouge, where they had evacuated to last week.

Brooks flew into Jackson, Miss., on Monday - when he still did not know if his relatives had survived - rented a car and drove to New Orleans. He was stopped at a roadblock on Interstate 55 about a half hour outside New Orleans but was allowed through to visit his grandfather in a New Orleans hospital.

His grandfather then told Brooks that he had heard from Brooks' mother, Pat, who had Greg Jr., who had turned three on the Tuesday the day after the hurricane ravaged the city.

"Things kind of fell in place once I got there," Greg Brooks said. "It's 10 times worse than what you see on TV. It's a mess, traffic, no gas. ... It's just one of those things that, hopefully, happen just once in a lifetime."

NO DOUBT, NUMBER TWO: Lewis said Peter Warrick's departure, like Warrick's placement on the injured reserve list in November 2004, should help T.J. Houshmandzadeh feel more secure as the No. 2 wide receiver. "It was a positive on T.J. last year," Lewis said. "It erases all that and lets T.J. play and the other guys do their thing. (Houshmandzadeh) always seemed to feel like he was kind of the stepchild and the odd man out there."

Warrick's contract was terminated, and he signed with Seattle.

BENGALS FIRED UP: "Guys are fired up. Don't fire yourself up too much. Go out there and do your job. Block the guy you're supposed to block. Run the right route. Throw the ball to the right guy and don't let all the extra stuff that's going on around you get in your head." - Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, when asked about the message to the team from coaches this week.

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