Bengals' struggles have quieted Johnson entering game against Bills

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Chad Johnson, whose touchdown celebration briefly made "Riverdance" fashionable again, has been left to wonder whether the jig, in fact, might be up.

The Bengals are struggling and Johnson is sulking, the star receiver fending off criticism he's selfish and has worn out his act in Cincinnati.

Johnson lamented how difficult it has been to live up to his colorful "Ocho Cinco" personality of old as the Bengals (2-5) prepare to play at the Buffalo Bills (3-4) on Sunday,

"I can't be Chad Johnson when we're 2-5," Johnson said. "Right now, I can't really be me because it will be backwards, because there's nothing to celebrate and there's nothing to really be hooting and hollering about. So I have to just go out there and play and contribute the best way I can."

Little pep and no Pepto, the upset-stomach medicine Johnson once playfully sent to Cleveland Browns defensive backs prior to a game.

None of this means Johnson has written off a season in which the Bengals have lost five of six and three straight on the road.

"Most definitely we've got a chance," he said. "I can only speak on behalf of my side of the ball. What we have offensively, man, we can do anything."

The problem is what that the Bengals' other side of the ball hasn't been able to do. Cincinnati's defense is a young and injury-depleted unit allowing 385 yards a game. It's given up 18 touchdowns passing, tied with Cleveland for most in the NFL.

"We haven't played well enough to win," coach Marvin Lewis said. "Until you do that, you have to keep finding ways and keep turning over rocks."

A loss to the Bills, a team Cincinnati has not beaten in eight straight meetings, would put the Bengals at rock bottom, scuttling the high expectations of how Cincinnati was supposed to ride its high-powered offense to a playoff berth and show that last year was a mere blip.

But how about those Bills?

Buffalo -- yes, that young, banged-up, offensively inept team with a revolving door at quarterback (J.P. Losman starts this week) -- is suddenly making a mini-run, having won three of four, albeit two against the lowly New York Jets. Beating the demoralized Bengals would allow Buffalo to climb to .500 after an 0-3 start and provide another sign that the Bills, particularly their defense, aren't the pushovers everyone expected.

"I've watched the NFL Network, and they said we were going to have the No. 1 (draft) pick next year," safety Donte Whitner said. "Half the people don't even watch us because we're `not a good football team,' or whatever. ... So we'll really see where we are at this week and maybe we can earn some respect."

The Bills' defense deserves accolades for holding together and showing steady improvement despite a rash of injuries. The team has started three undrafted players, including converted receiver George Wilson at safety.

The Bills have improved against the run, allowing 363 yards in the past four games, 169 fewer than they did in their first three. And they've been particularly adept at forcing turnovers: 12 in their past four games, including five interceptions and a fumble in a 25-24 loss to Dallas.

The Bengals present a formidable test, especially with running back Rudi Johnson expected to return after missing three of four games with a hamstring injury. Johnson will add balance to Carson Palmer's pass-happy attack featuring T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who leads the NFL with 58 catches and is tied for second with nine touchdowns.

Chad Johnson's scored only three times, but ranks second in the league with 731 yards receiving.

Never missing an edge, Johnson touted the Bills' undersized cornerbacks, Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer, as being among the two best in the league, in part to convince Buffalo to defend him with man-to-man coverage.

Nice try.

"It is noble," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said, laughing when learning of Johnson's request. "I can't tell you what we're going to do to him. But we're going to try to nullify his big plays."

"I'm not going to get it, huh?" Johnson told reporters, finally showing his playful side. "You guys tell McGee and Greer I said, `What's up?"'

Bengals coach Lewis hopes Johnson's mood is what's up.

"When people try to clip his wings back a little bit, I don't like that," Lewis said, referring to the criticism Johnson's drawn. "I want the guy that comes out to practice every day snorting and stomping. He brings the whole attitude up of the football team."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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