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Not same old Bengals


Jimmy Smith remembers a different Bengals team. He remembers the one that sat on every team's schedule as though it was a guaranteed win.

Back then, the Jaguars and Bengals were in the AFC Central, which meant the Jaguars were fortunate enough to play the Bengals twice a year, and in the Jaguars' last two playoff seasons, 1998 and '99, they were 4-0 against the Bengals.

"Same old Bengals," Smith said of those Bengals teams, "but you can't say that any more. It's not the same Bengals."

Whereas the '99 Bengals needed a whole season to win four games, the Bengals team coming to Jacksonville this Sunday will be seeking its fifth win of the young 2005 season.

These Bengals have a big-time offense with a star trio of quarterback Carson Palmer, running back Rudi Johnson and wide receiver Chad Johnson. These Bengals have the league's number three-ranked offense and the number 10 defense, which is young and aggressive and bent on pressuring the quarterback.

Smith, however, is maintaining his faith in his own team, even though it's coming off one of its poorest performances in the last two years. Smith, the only Jaguars player remaining from the team's inaugural season, is looking for a breakout game this Sunday night on national television.

"If everybody performs to their ability, we'll win the football game. If all 11 guys play up to their abilities, I don't see us losing the football game," Smith said on Thursday.

"All teams are going to have games like that," he said of the Jaguars' 20-7 loss to Denver. "That may have been our game. The one positive thing is we haven't had our breakout game."

The Jaguars will have a new face in their starting lineup. Rookie Khalif Barnes will start at left tackle and coach Jack Del Rio can only hope Barnes will solve a desperate problem on quarterback Byron Leftwich's blind side.

"I know more offensively now and I've been making fewer mistakes. I think I'll be fine," Barnes told reporters. "They run a lot of line games up front. They bring the safety down. They like to move a lot and throw a lot of stuff at you."

Leftwich has been under a heavy pass-rush the past three weeks, which has seen the Jaguars lose twice and fall to 2-2. Though Leftwich remains harshly criticized by Jaguars fans, he was grouped with Palmer and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger in the "Hit It Big" category of Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King's ratings of young quarterbacks.

"I've never had a problem nationally," Leftwich joked. "It's good to know people think that of you."

Palmer was the first pick of the 2003 draft, Leftwich was the seventh pick in '03 and Roethlisberger was number 11 in '04. Ironically, Leftwich will face Palmer and Roethlisberger in the next two weeks.

"As a quarterback you need so much help. If you're a top 10 pick, the team you're coming on is not Super Bowl caliber," Leftwich said.

"There's a lot that goes into a quarterback being successful. To me personally, I don't think I've hit it big. We all want the Super Bowl so bad. Until you're the champion of that, I don't know that you can say any of us hit it big."

This is a big game for both teams this Sunday. The Bengals can increase their AFC North lead over Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Jaguars need a win to stay in the AFC South race. Maybe even more importantly, this game could have a major impact on the wild-card race.

"With what we did last week, it's important for us to play how we know how to play. Winning solves everything. You have to understand the importance of this game because it's an AFC game," Leftwich said.

For sure, these are not the same old Bengals.

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