CINCINNATI (AP) – A 9-0 team is coming to town. Chad Johnson has made a guarantee. Fans are revved about their moment in the national spotlight.

The parallels end there.

The Colts are a much different team than the 9-0 Kansas City squad that showed up two years ago and got knocked off, as Johnson had flat-out guaranteed. And these Bengals (7-2) are much different, too, since that rousing win over the Chiefs.

“I can’t remember it,” coach Marvin Lewis insisted, refusing to dredge up the past. “I don’t know where we were at that point.”

Of course he does. The 24-19 victory put the Bengals back on the NFL map in Lewis’ first season as head coach. Two years later, they’re trying to take the final step in his rebuilding: making the playoffs for the first time since 1990.

About 100 miles down Interstate 74, the Colts have been working on a breakthrough season of their own. A 40-21 victory over New England two weeks ago got Indianapolis over its biggest hurdle from the last few years and marked the Colts as the team to beat.

This second act of Bengals versus Unbeaten has a whole different feel.

“There’s a lot more at stake, a lot more riding on it than when we played Kansas City,” Bengals offensive tackle Levi Jones said.

The main plot is the same. Just like Kansas City, the Colts are trying to become the first team to go 10-0 since the 1998 Denver Broncos. In NFL history, only 16 teams have won their first 10 games.

“It’s kind of snuck up on us,” coach Tony Dungy said. “Nobody else outside of our building was concerned about it until we were coming up on the Patriots. It was, Hey, they’ve done OK, but we’ll see what happens with the Patriots.’ The streak didn’t get a lot of attention early on.”

The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only team to go through a season unbeaten, so the odds are overwhelming that Indianapolis will lose one. The Colts have three road games left – at Cincinnati, Jacksonville and Seattle – so this one represents one of the best chances to keep those 72 Dolphins in a class by themselves.

“We have a great opportunity to stop that streak now,” said Johnson, who has guaranteed the Colts won’t be able to cover him. “This game is going to do down in history, man. This is not a football game. This is a historical event getting ready to happen.”

Fans two hours down Interstate 74 sense the same thing.

“The game is so close,” quarterback Peyton Manning said. “I don’t know how many tickets we’re allowed, but I know Indy fans who got tickets, it’s an easy travel for them. I know people all around are excited about this game.”

There are a couple of subplots that could wind up as the lasting memories years from now.

With two catches, Marvin Harrison will reach 900 in his career faster than anyone in history. Jerry Rice reached the milestone in 168 games; this will be Harrison’s 149th. Only five other receivers – Rice, Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Andre Reed and Art Monk – have caught 900 passes.

There’s more. Harrison is tied with Don Maynard for second place with 50 career 100-yard games. A triple-digit game in Cincinnati would move him alone behind Rice, who had 76.

“He’s a small receiver, but he creates ways to get open,” said Johnson, who has watched him play in person. “He’s just good. That speaks for itself.”

The other subplot is the matchup of teachers and students.

Johnson and Carson Palmer hope to be as good as the Harrison-Manning tandem someday, and made a two-hour field trip to watch them play a Monday night game last season. They studied how they talked things over on the sideline and how they communicated with small gestures on the field.

Sitting near the end zone in seats that Johnson got through friend Edgerrin James, the two Bengals learned a lot.

“We had a chance to see how they develop such rapport and this timing and rhythm they have that’s so unique to any other quarterback-receiver combo,” Palmer said. “It’s something that Chad and I have a chance to do.

“We know we’re going to be with each other for a long time. Whatever records they’ve set, we’re hopefully going to get a chance to beat and break. It was just a good chance for us to learn together and watch them.”

Manning wasn’t aware that he and Harrison were being watched until he read about it later.

“I think that’s pretty neat, to tell you the truth,” Manning said. “First of all, I like my teammates to do anything together off the field. I’m not sure what they got out of watching the game, but I guarantee they got something productive out of the two-hour car drive. That can be a valuable experience in bonding and win a game for you down the road.”

Just not this one, he hopes.

AP-ES-11-17-05 1727EST


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