Kansas City Chiefs

Low-key Larry Johnson awaits Chiefs

Larry Johnson always ran his hardest when he believed he had been wronged, so it's natural to assume his first game against the Chiefs will be bigger than any Super Bowl he could ever play in.

While that feeling isn't necessarily mutual, it's fair to say the Chiefs would prefer to avoid the embarrassment of having their woeful run defense steamrolled when they play against Johnson and the Bengals on Sunday in Cincinnati.

"Knowing Larry, I know he'll be up for this game," Chiefs coach Todd Haley said. "I would expect nothing less, so we've got to be up. Whether it's (starter Cedric Benson) or (Johnson) in there, we've got to be ready to play."

The Chiefs released Johnson, their second all-time leading rusher, last month after he sent out tweets that were critical of Haley and included homosexual slurs.

Sunday's reunion is clouded by a couple of issues. The first is that Johnson generally doesn't play much.

He had 107 yards in 22 carries in a recent game against Cleveland, but he was the featured back that day only because the injured Benson didn't play. Johnson was a backup in the other four games he's played for Cincinnati, carrying a total of 11 times.

The 9-5 Bengals can also clinch the AFC North championship by beating the Chiefs. Johnson was fired up about the prospect of Sunday's game when he signed with the Bengals last month but tried to downplay its personal significance Wednesday when he spoke with reporters in Cincinnati.

"I may end up with 30 carries and I may end up with four," Johnson said. "If Cedric was still out and I was being the guy like I was against Cleveland, then I'd be a little more pumped and excited.

"What's going on right now is bigger than me versus the Kansas City Chiefs. It's basically us trying to put ourselves in a great position to get into the playoffs and hopefully the Super Bowl."

His former teammates, though, weren't necessarily buying that.

"It will be the same as Michael Vick playing against the Falcons," said Johnson's replacement with the Chiefs, Jamaal Charles. "He was drafted here and he has records here, so I'm sure it's a big deal to him. It seems it's like revenge."

Linebacker Mike Vrabel said, "I don't know if anybody knew what was going through his head when he was here but I'm sure he'll be motivated. It looked like he was motivated on the film we saw of him. I'd say that would be a goal of his to have a good game."

Often privately and sometimes publicly, Johnson fumed in Kansas City when the weekly game plan didn't revolve around him. He's had to learn a different way with the Bengals, making his short time with the Bengals a difference experience than the last few years with the Chiefs.

"He's come into a very different role for him, a role he's not used to playing," Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer said. "He's preparing to do whatever his role in the game plan is. He's been the guy for so long and to come in and be a backup and not get the carries you're used to getting is tough (but) he's staying ready and alert for when he does get the carries. That's something he does a very good job of.

"I haven't seen one single sign (of frustration). He's been on time to everything, ready to roll, prepared. He's done everything we've asked him to do."

The Bengals are asking Johnson to be ready to help on special teams, so it's more likely the Chiefs might see Johnson covering a punt or running back a kickoff as an injury replacement rather than carrying the ball on offense.

Imagine him doing any of that in Kansas City.

"He's done everything he's been asked to do," Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. "He's a backup on the punt team and backup kickoff returner. So he's taking part in special teams meetings and the special teams parts of practice. Those are things he wasn't doing with the Chiefs because he was their primary ball carrier.

"Larry came here trying to be a small cog in the wheel. He came in here basically as the 53rd player. He understood that coming in. He knew the parameters he was agreeing to to become part of this football team."

Bradley gone — The Chiefs released veteran wide receiver Mark Bradley, who dropped two passes in Sunday's loss to Cleveland.

Bradley was released Tuesday. His drops in Sunday's game were among 10 by the Chiefs, who have been plagued throughout the season by an unreliable receiving corps.

Also Tuesday, the team said it planned to put tight end Brad Cottam on injured reserve with a fracture to a cervical vertebra. Cottam was hurt in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to Cleveland.