SERIES: 20th meeting -- The New England Patriots lead the Cincinnati Bengals 11-8. Cincinnati is 6-4 as the home team. New England has won four of the last five regular season meetings between the clubs dating back to 1993. The most recent meeting with a 35-28 New England victory at Gillette Stadium in December 2004. The Bengals won 23-17 in Cincinnati in the 2001 opener. The first game of the series was played at Boston's Fenway Park, with the Boston Patriots winning 33-14 against the expansion Bengals in 1968. Bill Belichick is 10-3 career against the Bengals. Marvin Lewis is 0-1 against New England.
2006 RANKINGS: Patriots: offense 8th (7th rush, 12th pass); defense 20th (16th rush, 23rd pass). Bengals: offense 17th (10th rush, 16th pass); defense 16th (20th rush, 16th pass)
PREDICTION: Bengals 24-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bengals know they'll have to fix a leaky run defense that allowed 170 yards against Pittsburgh last weekend. Patriots QB Tom Brady is off to a rough start while trying to build chemistry with a revamped receiving corps, and New England is relying heavily on the tandem of RBs Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney. The Patriots need to run the ball and utilize the short passing game to control the clock and protect their defense from the Bengals' high-powered offense. New England had coverage breakdowns against Denver, and Cincinnati has a far more potent passing attack. The Bengals will move the ball, but the key will be their productivity inside the red zone, where they have scored seven touchdowns in 11 trips (63.6 percent)
FAST FACTS: Patriots: Rookie K Stephen Gostkowski has had his last two field-goal attempts blocked. ... Have not lost back-to-back games since December 2002, a span of 52 consecutive regular season games that ranks third since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Bengals: QB Carson Palmer has 56 TD passes in 31 games, making him the third-fastest to reach 55 (Kurt Warner, 22; Dan Marino, 24). ... Are 20-1 under coach Marvin Lewis when having a positive turnover ratio.
--CB Ellis Hobbs was the lone player not present at Friday's practice. This is the third day in a row that Hobbs wasn't present at the start of practice. Hobbs is questionable (wrist) for Sunday's game against the Bengals and this isn't the week the Patriots want to be short-handed in the secondary.
-- DB Antwain Spann was activated from the Patriots' practice squad on Saturday, and will likely see action in passing situations.
-- OL Gene Mruczkowski was released on Saturday to free up a roster spot for Antwain Spann. Mruczkowski, may be re-signed at a later point when players return from injury
--S Eugene Wilson (hamstring) is was as questionable for Sunday's game on Friday,. but downgraded to our Saturday.
--S Artrell Hawkins (thigh) is listed as questionable for Sunday's game.
--WR Chad Jackson is still on the injury report. Jackson (hamstring) is questionable after being inactive last week.
--WR Doug Gabriel is still on the Patriots injury report. Gabriel (hamstring) is probable. He played last week against the Broncos.
--LB Rashad Jeanty (foot), the starter on the strong side, was downgraded to doubtful. He did not practice. Caleb Miller is expected to start at strong-side linebacker Sunday against New England.
--LT Levi Jones (ankle) was on the field early but did not participate in team drills. He remained probable and is expected to start.
--S Kevin Kaesviharn will start in place of injured strong safety Dexter Jackson (ankle), who is out. Kaesviharn returned to team drills Thursday after missing them Wednesday with a neck injury. He is probable.
--WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (foot) is probable and returned to practice Thursday. He will play a key role Sunday in attacking New England's secondary.
--LB Brian Simmons (knee) returned to practice and remained probable. The Bengals will need him against New England's run offense.
--DE Justin Smith (foot) is probable and returned to practice Thursday.
--In 2004, the Bengals and Patriots were trading partners in a major move of the Lewis era. The Bengals traded running back Corey Dillon -- making room for Rudi Johnson to start as the featured back -- and received New England's second-round pick, the 56th overall, which became safety Madieu Williams.
"They added value," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We won a Super Bowl the first year with Corey."
--New England running back Corey Dillon leads the Bengals franchise with 8,061 rushing yards and 1,865 attempts.
--The Bengals are 20-1 under Marvin Lewis with a plus differential in turnovers.
--With 56 touchdown passes in 31 games, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer has reached 55 in the third fewest games in NFL history (Kurt Warner, 22; Dan Marino, 24).
--The Bengals are tied for fourth in the NFL with seven touchdowns in 11 red-zone possessions (63.6 percent).
--Odell Thurman, whose four-game suspension cost him a total of $78,528 in game checks, lost another $255,216 Wednesday when the NFL suspended him for the rest of the season for a third violation of its substance abuse policy. And, for now, at least, Thurman is not welcome at the Bengals' Paul Brown Stadium facility.
"We've told him he's not to be around here," Lewis said of Thurman.
The second-year linebacker, who can apply for reinstatement before training camp next season, lost his stadium locker. Practice squad offensive lineman Kyle Takavitz's nameplate adorns the cubicle.
In a statement, the NFL said a players violate the substance abuse policy if they "fail to cooperate with testing, treatment, evaluation or other requirements imposed on (them) by this policy or fails to comply with (their) treatment plan."
Thurman forfeited his annual salary of $333,750 this season. Players are paid 17 times on Monday following their 16 games and bye week.
--Bengals linebacker Caleb Miller woke up Wednesday to find himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. He is shown tackling Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, which leads into a story about the Bengals-Steelers rivalry.
Of the cover photo, the well-grounded Miller -- who has a dry sense of humor -- turned tongue-in-cheek, saying, "I'm going international right now. I'm bigger than anything. I thought I saw some paparazzi in my rearview mirror this morning. I put on my sunglasses. The fame and fortune, it's too much to handle."
--One of the improvements the Bengals made this past offseason was the strengthening of the middle of its defense. Bill Belichick's Patriots made similar adjustments to strengthen their defensive middle.
"Oh, I've learned a lot," Lewis said of watching Belichick. "I think the strength ... through the middle of your team is important. We lost a little bit last year. This year we made sure we went back and added to that because that's important; (middle linebacker) Brian Simmons, (strong safety) Dexter (Jackson), (defensive tackle) Sam (Adams), those things have been added to strengthen our team down the middle where we really faltered last year."
--Defensive ends Robert Geathers and Justin Smith are the league's only pair of teammates with four sacks apiece.
By The Numbers: 421-330 -- Bengals scoring edge in series with Patriots, though New England has won 11 of 19 previous meetings. Seven of eight Cincinnati victories have come by 10 or more points and five of the eight have come by 20 or more.
They Said It: "It's good. It's a great challenge. I mean, gosh, the guys have been World Champions three times recently, very recently, so they pride themselves on their preparation. That's one of the things in my mind impresses me so much is their preparation, week to week, opponent to opponent, and how they can go and change things they do, and how they do and so forth from week to week and opponent to opponent. That's the challenge for us this week. We know we're going to be put to the test, and we've got to be up to the challenge, and our preparation has to raise a level." -- Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, on facing the Patriots.
--It was announced Sunday night that the Patriots and Seahawks will play the first-ever NFL game in China this preseason. The Patriots will fly out to Seattle and play the Seahawks and then the two teams will leave from there and head to China, where they'll play each other again the next week. The game will take place on Aug. 8, 2007.
After their lackluster performance against the Broncos, Bill Belichick had no interest in talking about the China trip, saying he has too much to worry about preparing for the Bengals this week.
"Right now, I really couldn't care less about China, or any place else," Belichick said. "Cincinnati is the only destination I'm really concerned with right now. I don't really care about anything else right now. That stuff is so far in the future that I don't know if China will be there a year from now. I don't know if I'll be there a year from now. Right now, all I care about is Cincinnati and that's plenty."
--WR Chad Jackson made an impressive debut against the Jets two weeks ago, catching two passes for 45 yards and scoring his first NFL touchdown. Just when it appeared Jackson was over a hamstring injury that plagued him all summer, he was listed as inactive for last Sunday's game. It was assumed that Jackson tweaked his hamstring again and that's why he was inactive, but Belichick wouldn't say for sure if Jackson was an injury scratch or not in the Patriots 17-7 loss to the Broncos.
"He was inactive because we felt like we had other players that were ... we felt we put our best 45 out there," Belichick said. "That's the 45 that were active, that's what we felt was best for this particular game."
Belichick's comments could mean Jackson was held out for something other than a hamstring injury. If that's indeed the case, it's not good news for a team that desperately needs help at the receiver position.
--Rookie K Stephen Gostkowski has had his last two field goal attempts blocked. Trying to replace legend Adam Vinatieri is hard enough but missing field goals early in the season certainly isn't helping. Both the Jets and Broncos got good penetration to get a hand on the ball but both kicks, especially the one against the Broncos, appeared to be low coming off Gostkowski's foot.
"I think the ball came out low, that was part of the problem," Belichick said about his kick that was blocked against he Broncos. "There were other problems, too."
--"You tell 37 (Rodney Harrison), I'm going to knock his helmet off. Tell Asante (Samuel) that he should continue to have help for all four quarters, or his 22 will be 55; isn't that what it is upside down? Tell Junior (Seau), when I'm done with him ... never mind, I'm not going to pick on Junior. He could hurt me. Tell Eugene Wilson, if he hits me across the middle, we'll probably have to fight and get thrown out of the game right there on the spot. My last hit I was going to take this year was in Cleveland. If anyone hits me like that again, they're going down." -- Bengals WR Chad Johnson talking some friendly trash to the Patriots defensive backs at his Wednesday conference call with the New England media.
--The Patriots have not lost back-to-back games since December 2002 and their streak of 52 consecutive regular season games without back-to-back losses is tied for the third longest streak since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The last time the Patriots had consecutive losses was when they dropped a game at Tennessee (24-7, 12/16/02), and followed that with a home loss to the N.Y. Jets (30-17, 12/22/02). Since then, New England has recorded a 10-0 record in games following a loss.
--Throughout his career, Tom Brady is 16-1 in games played on artificial turf and 9-1 against teams from the AFC North.
--Corey Dillon, who owns 18 franchise rushing records from his seven years with the Bengals, will be making his first regular season trip back to Cincinnati since he was traded to the Patriots before the 2004 season.
By The Numbers: 17 -- The number of points the Patriots have allowed their opponents in each of their first three games this season.
They Said It: "Blitzing is a problem, covering is a problem, playing the run is a problem. They get a lot of points in a hurry. It doesn't take much, not for them anyway. They don't fool around." -- Bill Belichick on the challenge his defense faces this week trying to slow down the explosive Bengals offense.
Game Plans and Strategies
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