SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -After watching tape on dozens of opponents over seven NFL seasons, not much shows up on film that really impresses Chad Johnson.
This week, one defensive player put a few choice words in the speedy Cincinnati receiver's mouth.
``I have to curse,'' Johnson said apologetically before launching into a joyous, expletive-filled celebration of Patrick Willis, San Francisco's stellar rookie linebacker.
``I've seen a lot of linebackers in my seven years, and that (guy) is good,'' Johnson said. ``He is the real deal. And you know he's playing with a cast on his hand, right? All during film, I'm calling him Bam-Bam, like from 'The Flintstones,' because he hits everything. He is the truth. You tell him 85 said, 'You're the truth.' I stopped watching the defensive backs to watch him.''
With Johnson and Willis on the same field Saturday night, there are at least two reasons to seek out a game that won't spark any protests over its exclusive broadcast on the NFL Network.
The 49ers (3-10), losers of 10 of their last 11 during a hugely disappointing season, will start third-string quarterback Shaun Hill against Carson Palmer and the Bengals (5-8), who are out of AFC playoff contention during their own discouraging year.
Motivation can be tough to find in such meaningless contests, but Willis hasn't been in the league long enough to be downtrodden - and he's currently leading the NFL in tackles, a fact not lost on Johnson.
``I've been hearing about it a little bit,'' said Willis, who has 136 tackles, 17 more than Detroit's Ernie Sims, according to league statistics. ``But I'm just a rookie. I still have to go out there every week and prove myself, and this week we've got a chance to go against a great team that's done some great things in this league.''
The Bengals will make their first visit to Candlestick Park since 1996 to face the franchise that beat them in two Super Bowls. Cincinnati offensive tackle Willie Anderson and San Francisco defensive tackle Bryant Young are the only remaining links from that last Bay Area meeting in the waning years of the 49ers' excellence.
``I remember Steve Young running a bootleg 25 yards with a pulled hamstring,'' said Anderson, who hasn't played since Oct. 21 because of a knee injury. ``We couldn't catch him. I remember a young Terrell Owens. We had no idea who he was, and he caught a long touchdown bomb on us. I was really excited to see Jerry Rice. I tried to watch Jerry Rice all game.''
Anderson also remembers coach Dave Shula was fired after that midseason game, part of a long list of failed Bengals coaches after the franchise's Super Bowl losses to the 49ers.
Those glory days are long-faded memories in San Francisco, where the petty infighting between coach Mike Nolan and quarterback Alex Smith has been the most distinguishing factor in the 49ers' fifth consecutive losing season, a franchise record.
While Willis' battle with Johnson and Palmer could provide some excitement, the game should be decided when San Francisco's league-worst offense goes against Cincinnati's woeful defense, which has sabotaged the Bengals' chances for a playoff return.
Cincinnati will be facing a third-string quarterback making his first NFL start for the second straight week. With Smith undergoing season-ending surgery and Trent Dilfer still hazy from a concussion, the Niners turned this week to Hill, a sixth-year backup who had never thrown a pass before playing well last weekend.
It could be a golden opportunity for the Bengals to win back-to-back games for the first time in more than a year. But Hill's 22-of-27 performance last week suggests the Niners might be able to coax some life out of the NFL's worst offense.
``Maybe it's a little different way to get on the field, but as it's turned out, this is the chance I've got, and I just want to make the most of it,'' Hill said. ``We're playing a good team that's had a frustrating season, just like us, so hopefully we can execute and get something going.''
That's been a season-long problem for Nolan, who spent 2001 on the Baltimore coaching staff with Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis. Nolan made a one-year foray into coaching receivers, while Lewis coordinated the Ravens' fearsome defense - a job Nolan inherited in 2002.
Lewis has been through his share of controversy on the way to his fourth non-winning record in five years with the Bengals. But he's never been publicly criticized the way Smith has ripped into Nolan for the coach's veiled comments about his toughness.
``I don't think anyone has the intention of making these things public, and it's unfortunate when they do,'' said Lewis, whose family became friends with Nolan's brood in Baltimore. ``We are going to disagree all the time about things. My guys here know that I push them to get them going. I'm going to push all the time.''

NFL Team Pages

Recent NFL Discussions

Sports Insights' Advanced Betting Tools - NFL Free 14-Day Trial