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Bengals inside Johnny Football’s head

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 4, 2015

The unbeaten Bengals know how to torment and taunt Johnny Football.

Johnny Manziel had a horrid NFL debut last season in Cleveland. The Bengals chased him around the field, knocked him around and did his signature “money-rubbing” gesture to rub it in during a 30-0 win.

All this after Bengals coach Marvin Lewis called Manziel “a midget” on a radio show.

With Josh McCown sidelined by a rib injury, Manziel gets a chance to show he’s improved Thursday night against a Bengals team that’s even better than the last time they met. Cincinnati (7-0) is off to the best start in franchise history and in control of the AFC North.

The Browns (2-6) have lost five of six and will be missing two defensive backs – including cornerback Joe Haden – to concussions. Manziel will have to play much better than the last time in order to prevent it from quickly becoming a blowout.

“He’s a different player,” coach Mike Pettine said. “I just think we’ve all seen it from going back to the amount of work in the spring to training camp.

“When the rush became live, I think that’s where you saw that he made his biggest improvement with his demeanor in the pocket. That it wasn’t as frenetic, that his feet were calm.”

Manziel? The Bengals have handled better. They’ve already beaten Joe Flacco and the Ravens in Baltimore, and last week knocked off Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in Pittsburgh to remain one of four unbeaten teams.

They’re enjoying their stay among the NFL’s elite and want to keep it going.

“This game is not a game we’re looking over and saying: ‘Oh, it’s just the Browns,’ ” defensive tackle Domata Peko said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re on top of our stuff.”

Ryan Fitzpatrick will start for Jets

It’s a thumbs-up on Ryan Fitzpatrick starting Sunday for the New York Jets.

Coach Todd Bowles announced that Fitzpatrick will be under center against the Jacksonville Jaguars after being a full participant at practice despite dealing with a torn ligament in his left thumb.

“No limitations today,” Fitzpatrick said. “Really, just kind of a trial run to see how it was going to feel and what the best way to do (things) going forward would be in terms of using it or not using it and all that. Today was a pretty positive day in that regard.”

The right-handed Fitzpatrick wore what he called “a special glove” over his left hand after tearing at least one ligament in his thumb that will require surgery at some point. He was hurt on the first drive of the Jets’ 34-20 loss at Oakland last Sunday.

“Well, it’s painful enough to get me out of changing diapers,” said the father of five. “That’s been the one positive.”

Ravens place Steve Smith on IR

Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith’s season is done after the Baltimore Ravens placed him on injured reserve with a torn right Achilles tendon.

Smith, who leads the Ravens (2-6) with 46 catches, 670 yards receiving and three touchdown receptions, is scheduled to have surgery next week in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Smith was tackled by Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett on a 17-yard catch and needed to be helped off the field Sunday.

The 36-year-old Smith said in August that he will retire after this season, his 15th in the NFL. If he changes his mind, he’s got an open invitation to return to Baltimore from coach John Harbaugh.

“Oh, yeah. Absolutely,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a great player. It’s really up to him.”

NFL suspends Rams RB Trey Watts

St. Louis Rams backup running back Trey Watts has been suspended indefinitely for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

It’s the second suspension this fall for Watts, who was out the first four games from a penalty handed down in late May.

Coach Jeff Fisher said he wouldn’t deal with Watts’ future with the franchise until the offseason. For now, the Rams are keeping a roster spot open.

Fisher said the second violation took place before the first suspension began. Fisher also said Watts was “on the road to recovery.”

Ex-Viking Fred McNeill dies

Fred McNeill, the former Minnesota linebacker who helped the Vikings reach two Super Bowls in his 12-year NFL career, has died. He was 63.

Wife Tia McNeill said he died in Southern California of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He also suffered from dementia.

Drafted 17th overall in 1974, the former UCLA star played in Minnesota’s Super Bowl losses in 1975 and 1977. In 167 regular-season games, he had 1,068 tackles, 13 sacks, seven interceptions and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. He appeared in 13 playoff games, and blocked a punt in the 1977 Super Bowl.

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