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The number "23" is just a number

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Walter Sparrow is haunted by "The Number 23".

It's often easy to lose things in stats. For instance, you know that Ryan Fitzpatrick had eight touchdowns this season. But can you tell me which team his fifth touchdown was against? Considering how low that number is, you just might. Bad example. We love Crazy Legs. It wasn't as if he single-handedly lost us football games. No. That was Corey Webster. We don't forget.

Stats as a whole can picture the performance of a single player. Not the team. The team is the accumulation of stats with all players. It's the team stats that matter; the third down conversions, the yards-per-rush with all running backs, time of possession, etc. And, um, the score. Don't forget that; kind of important. There's another stat, specifically marked "To Cincinnati", with the only coherent response being "holy crap, how many?"

Throughout the season the Bengals lost 23 players to IR; several of whom left with an injury settlement. Carson Palmer went down early in the season, didn't play again. Stacy Andrews went down late in the season. Neither are included as the "23". Fingerling freaks. Andrew Whitworth, Scott Kooistra and Dan Santucci are three linemen that project on next year's roster (because they have signed contracts through next year). Marvin White, Johnathan Joseph, Keith Rivers, Robert Geathers and Dexter Jackson weren't just defensive players that went down, they were starters (yes, Jackson started three games). Along with several others, these players will be back next season.

If that's too detailed, the generic crack-the-stat version looks like this: starting left guard, primary backup at tackle and guard, backup center, starting defensive end, two starting safeties, a starting cornerback, and a starting linebacker.

It's granted, understood and accepted that injuries happen with all teams. Better teams have better talent lower in their depth charts creating a scenario where a backup player becomes a starter because he performed better while playing for the injured starter. We're also not telling you that you should expect an undefeated season, or even a playoff berth. However, when you have that many people go down, most of whom are returning in 2009, the team has to get better. Right?

So it's easy to say 23 players on injured reserve. After all, 23 is just a number, high enough that the context within the number begins to fade. The best part about the off-season and training camp, is that that number should default back to zero. Of course, like seasons before, we'll start watching a new crop of injured players suffer hamstring injuries during training camp that could miss the start of the season. But that's later.