The Other Side

The pre-game subplot took a twist from the coaching scene early this week when comments by San Diego Chargers tailback LaDainian Tomlinson sparked a stir in Cincinnati. They weren't necessary to help Marvin Lewis focus his team on the importance of Sunday's game, but Lewis will take and use them any way.

The Bengals are 5-5 and can at least maintain a share in the AFC North division with a victory Sunday at San Diego against the 2-8 Chargers.

The Bengals upset previously undefeated Kansas City 24-19 last Sunday. The Bengals have their best 10-game record since they started 6-4 in 1990, not coincidentally the last time they were in first place this late in a season and the last time they qualified for the playoffs.

On Monday, Tomlinson provided this week's bulletin board material.

"You play for pride," Tomlinson said the day after the Chargers lost 37-8 to Denver.

"You play not to get laughed at and not to be called the Cincinnati Bengals of the league."

Tomlinson went on to compliment the Bengals: "Look what they're doing now; they're 5-5 and beat the undefeated team in the Chiefs," he said. "Now there's a new team that everyone is laughing at and picking on. We could easily become that team."

Lewis, who is doing everything possible to prevent his team from dropping another road game, informed his players of Tomlinson's comments - presumably during a team meeting Wednesday morning.

"Yeah, I did see the quotes," Lewis said later Wednesday in his news conference. "So did our players. Well, it's not surprising. But it is what it is. We're going to prove him wrong."

The Bengals have won 4 of their last 5 games after starting 1-4. The only loss since the bye was at Arizona, to a Cardinals team the Bengals should have defeated.

Last week, the Bengals were on the opposite end of the quote game. Wide receiver Chad Johnson guaranteed a victory over the previously undefeated Chiefs, a comment that was not warmly received in Kansas City.

Lewis wants to avoid the problems his team had three weeks ago at Arizona. Playing for a chance to even their record at 4-4, the Bengals lost 17-14 to the Cardinals.

One of the problems early in that game was crowd noise, though the announced attendance at Sun Devil Stadium was 23,531. Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna said that the offense missed a first down because it wasn't prepared for the noise.

"We didn't work the whole week, the Arizona week, on the silent count in the shotgun," Kitna said. "We're going to work on that already today in the walkthrough. You learn you cannot take any one lightly in this league."

Sure enough, the afternoon practice Wednesday opened with the first-team offense working against piped-in crowd noise.

In team meetings, and through the media, Lewis has also removed the West Coast excuse. The Bengals are 1-12 on the West Coast since 1990, and Lewis' team lost by three points at Oakland. They also lost by three at Arizona. The Bengals are 19-81 on the road since the start of the 1991 season.

"There's nothing about playing on the West Coast," Lewis said. "This is a big football game. If we don't want to be those same old Bengals, we better go win this one."

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