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Bengals reconfigure secondary on fly; Palmer unable to practice

Fred Bennett texted his mother Tuesday morning, telling her he'd 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 the San Diego Chargers released him six weeks ago. Now, he has a chance to play against the New York Jets (8-2) on Thanksgiving night.

"It beats being at home and sitting around," Bennett said Tuesday 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 the Buffalo Bills 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 walked 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 because of 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 re-injured while making an interception.

In addition, the Bengals placed defensive tackle Tank Johnson on season-ending injured reserve because of a knee problem. Johnson, a seventh-year pro, sustained the injury during an Oct. 31 game against the Miami Dolphins.

Johnson had started the first seven games of the season, making 10 tackles. He was the third Bengals player to go on IR this week, joining Crocker and fellow defensive lineman Frostee Rucker.

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 the Detroit Lions, who released him on Nov. 10. He was a third-round draft choice of the St. Louis Rams in 2007.

A day later, the Bengals signed Bennett, who was a Houston Texans fourth-round pick in 2007. He was released by the Texans during training camp and claimed by the Lions off waivers. For the past six weeks, he has waited 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 during the second half Sunday by the Bills, who took full advantage of Cincinnati's 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," Bengals 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 the quarterback will be able to play against the Jets, who knocked the Bengals out of the playoffs last season.

The loss to the Bills guaranteed the Bengals' 18th non-winning record in the past 20 seasons, a huge comedown for the defending AFC North champions. Last season, they won the division while dealing with the deaths of wide receiver Chris Henry and the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

In some ways, this season 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."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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