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Inside the NFL | Sam Farmer ON THE NFL

Guaranteed, He's Not the Subtle Type

November 15, 2003|Sam Farmer

Just in case God ever loses track of priorities, there's always Chad Johnson's voice mail to fall back on.

Johnson, the Cincinnati receiver who made headlines this week by guaranteeing a victory Sunday over undefeated Kansas City, announced earlier this year that his goal was to amass at least 1,800 yards receiving, something only Jerry Rice has done.

In the event his Higher Power has, like most people, paid little heed to the happenings with the Bengals, Johnson keeps this cryptic greeting on his cellular phone:

"Eighteen-hundred. Lord, you know my needs. Remember me. Amen."

That the Bengals have a prayer of pulling off an upset Sunday is in part a testament to the play of Johnson, who leads the AFC in yards receiving with 807 and whose average of 16.8 yards a catch is best in the NFL among players with at least 37 receptions.

It's no wonder the Bengals broke their trend of dragging their feet on contract negotiations and this week gave Johnson a five-year extension worth $26 million. They want him around.

"It happened a lot faster than I thought," said Johnson, 25, a second-round pick from Oregon State in 2001. "I didn't know things like this could get done in the middle of the season.... Now I have to make sure I stay on top of my game and stay hungry, and keep doing what I do."

Johnson's rise parallels that of the Bengals, who at 4-5 are in the thick of things in the AFC playoff chase for the first time in years. They are a game behind the first-place Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North, marking the first time since 1990 that a Cincinnati team has been within two games of the division lead nine games into the season.

"We're in the process of not only turning the organization around, but getting the city behind us 100%," said Johnson, cousin of Tampa Bay and former USC receiver Keyshawn Johnson. "People haven't been able to wear a Bengal hat or T-shirt and be proud of it. We're changing that."

Not only has Johnson emerged as one of the more dangerous receiving threats in the game, he has brought some flair back to a downtrodden organization.

When the Bengals were 0-7 last season, Johnson guaranteed a victory over the expansion Houston Texans -- a prediction that was only semi-bold, seeing as how the Texans were 2-5 -- and Cincinnati came through, 38-3. Last week against the Texans, Johnson promised he would score a touchdown, but his apparent score was taken away when officials viewed the replay and ruled him down at the one-yard line.

Guaranteeing a touchdown is one thing, but promising a victory over the 9-0 Chiefs? That apparently left Kansas City Coach Dick Vermeil perturbed -- or maybe secretly delighted that he had some corkboard material to keep his players focused.

"We don't like our players to overload their mouth," Vermeil said. "We don't need to inspire our opponents any more than they need to be inspired. We try to make very rational, classy statements and always reflect positively on our opponents. Not to set them up."

Evidently, Bengal Coach Marvin Lewis got to Johnson this week and advised him to keep his guarantees to himself. After his initial chest-pounding, Johnson was far more subdued.

"I didn't mean anything about it," he said of the prediction. "It's for my team. How the organization takes it, I don't know.... I don't regret anything I said."

Johnson said it because he thinks the Bengals match up well across the board with the Chiefs. That's debatable. Cincinnati's defense, which ranks 25th against the run, will have to play its best game to neutralize Priest Holmes; and their banged-up secondary includes right cornerback Artrell Hawkins, who's playing on a bum knee. Jeff Burris, the starting right cornerback, is out after trying last week to come back after a second concussion.

Then again, the Bengals have surprised a lot of people so far. What's another week?

"We have a job to do and that's go out and beat whoever's coming to Cincinnati," Johnson said. "And we want to make it one of the hardest places to play, when you come into this jungle. That's what we're trying to do."

As for his personal goals? He's got about 1,800 of those. Just check the cell phone.

*

So far, the Chiefs have had an outstanding offense, a decent defense, spectacular special teams ... and some amazingly good fortune.

Through nine games, not a single opening-day starter has sat out a game. Right tackle John Tait might be the first to do so. He probably will sit out Sunday's game because of a sprained ankle.

Last week, middle linebacker Mike Maslowski (knee) and cornerback Eric Warfield (ankle) were questionable for the Cleveland game but started.

*

When Dallas plays at New England on Sunday night, it won't be just another stop along the Tuna Tour. It's the Bill Bowl -- Bill Parcells vs. Bill Belichick; the return of former Patriot receiver Terry Glenn to his old haunts ("I hate everything about New England."), and even something of a family reunion.

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