Pollack out for season with neck injury

Updated: September 18, 2006, 6:21 PM ET
Associated Press

CINCINNATI -- Linebacker David Pollack is out for the season with a neck injury, the most serious setback for the banged-up Cincinnati Bengals heading into a highly anticipated game.

Pollack is one of three starters hurt during a 34-17 victory Sunday over the Cleveland Browns. The former first-round draft pick was injured tackling Reuben Droughns on Cleveland's second play.

He was taken to a local hospital and place in a halo brace that immobilizes the neck. Coach Marvin Lewis said Monday that Pollack has full feeling in his arms and legs and is expected to make a full recovery without surgery.

"At this point, it's not career-threatening," Lewis said. "There is no damage to the spinal cord at all."

The Bengals placed Pollack on injured reserve Monday, making him ineligible to play this season.

The Bengals also lost safety Dexter Jackson and center Rich Braham during the first half, forcing them to shuffle their line and secondary. Jackson limped off with a severely sprained right ankle, and Braham was taken off on a cart with a deep bruise on his left knee.

Neither is expected to be available Sunday for a rematch with Pittsburgh, who knocked the Bengals out of the playoffs last January. They Steelers will end the regular season in Cincinnati on Dec. 31.

"If I can't play in that game, they still have to come here," said Jackson, who was on crutches and wearing a protective boot Monday.

The defending AFC North champions have two things in their favor. The Steelers had a short week to rest after their Monday night game, and a couple of other starters might be back.

Receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh sat out the first two games with a bruised heel, and left tackle Levi Jones was inactive for the Cleveland game with a lingering ankle sprain. Both could play against Pittsburgh.

Chad Johnson should be fine as well. The Pro Bowl receiver was groggy after Brian Russell's high hit knocked off his helmet and gashed his chin on Cincinnati's last pass. Johnson got stitches in his chin, but wasn't coherent enough to do postgame interviews.

A day later, Johnson was lucid and forgiving.

"It was a good hit," Johnson said. "He has a great story to tell his grandkids when he gets old, about how I was never able to stop No. 85 but I did knock him out."

Johnson also bruised his right shoulder when he landed hard after catching his first touchdown pass of the season. He was still having trouble raising his arm Monday, but he is expected to be ready for Pittsburgh.

"This is a very big week," he said. "A key thing, one of our coaches said, was that we're going into Pittsburgh but we don't have to beat Pittsburgh. The last time we checked, we were the division champs even though they won the Super Bowl. It's going to be a fun week."

Lewis left his starters in for the closing minutes against Cleveland, even though the Bengals led 34-10. Johnson was hurt on a third-down pass by Palmer that was intercepted with 1:54 to go, setting up Cleveland's final touchdown.

Lewis had no regrets about leaving his starters in to finish a lopsided game.

"I don't worry about that," he said. "You've got to play football. It's third down. We want to make a first down and keep the other side off the ball, too, right? If we make the first down, then we don't have to punt the football. We don't have to do anything. We can just kneel on it."

The Bengals and Steelers split their season series last year, each winning on the road. Pittsburgh won the game that mattered most, 34-17, at Paul Brown Stadium on Jan. 8. Carson Palmer was knocked out of that game on his first pass, when Kimo von Oelhoffen slammed into his left knee, tearing two ligaments and dislocating his kneecap.

Fans were already looking ahead in the closing minutes of the victory over Cleveland.

"Then we heard the crowd start cheering, 'We want Pittsburgh,' and then that all started to get in our heads a little that we have another big division game next week," Palmer said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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