Houshmandzadeh boosts Bengals' receiving corps

T.J. Houshmandzadeh has transformed himself from pest to playmaker.

While the Cincinnati Bengals' receiver has always been somewhat of a nuisance for the Ravens' defense the past three seasons, Houshmandzadeh became a prime target in the Bengals' offense the first time the teams met this year, hauling in seven catches for a career-high 116 yards.


It was the first 100-yard game for Houshmandzadeh, and it came against the same team in which he recorded his first touchdown as a professional in 2002. That year, Houshmandzadeh also made a memorable play against the Ravens when he forced a fumble by catching Ed Reed from behind after an interception, as the safety was 5 yards away from the end zone.

The previous year, Houshmandzadeh led the Bengals in receptions and yards in a game against the Ravens.


Now, with Peter Warrick out for the year, Houshmandzadeh is a regular starter for the first time in his career and is coming off a two-touchdown game against the Cleveland Browns.

And he is getting another crack at, presumably, one of his favorite teams.

"He had a big game against us," cornerback Gary Baxter said. "He's been making progress each and every week. You can tell watching film that he is becoming more of a role player in their offense and what they are trying to do. He's making the tough grabs, and once he gets the ball in his hands, he can make things happen."

As can Houshmandzadeh's fellow starting receiver, Chad Johnson.

Johnson, a Pro Bowl player, had eight catches for 99 yards in the first game against the Ravens.

"[Houshmandzadeh] has taken pressure off people keying on Chad Johnson," Baxter said. "He's playing real good football."

Ravens at Brooks benefit

Members of the Ravens organization, including coach Brian Billick, are planning to attend the benefit for Loyola football player Van Brooks, who suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury.


The benefit is expected to draw at least 1,200 people.

"You have to recognize what's going on in your community, and you can't shut yourself off from the things that you need as a member of the community just because we're knee-deep in a playoff hunt," Billick said. "Our players, as evidenced by what they do [community service] on Tuesdays, are very responsive to that."

Murphy's time almost up

This may be it for punter Nick Murphy.

Murphy's stint with the Ravens figures to end next week when Dave Zastudil is expected to return from a shoulder injury, leaving tomorrow's game as his final audition to other teams.

If he can kick as well as he did last game, Murphy may give teams something to think about. Murphy averaged 44.4 yards on 10 punts, including four that landed inside the 20-yard line, against the New England Patriots.


Murphy's average for that game would be second in the AFC. "I felt like I did pretty well. I'm just trying to do what I can do while I'm here."

End zone

Right tackle Orlando Brown (knee), running back Jamal Lewis (ankle) and cornerback Deion Sanders (foot) did not practice yesterday, and none of the players are expected to play tomorrow. Lewis has officially been ruled out for the game. For the Bengals, cornerback Deltha O'Neal (ankle) was downgraded from probable to questionable. ...

Cornerback Chris McAlister (shoulder) and tight end Todd Heap (ankle) practiced and are expected to play. ... The Ravens and retired defensive end Michael McCrary will host 10 servicemen - all recovering from combat wounds suffered in Iraq or Afghanistan - for tomorrow's game.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Cincinnati Bengals (5-6) vs. Ravens (7-4)


Site: M&T; Bank Stadium

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 6 1/2