It's game day.
In just 12 hours, the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins will end this short week by running onto Sun Life Stadium's field and participating in a game that, at least for the Bengals, will be about one thing.
This is one of those weeks where, if you're a team as beat-up and beleaguered as Cincinnati, you want the time between the first and last whistles to feel like the snap of a finger. You can't wait until the scoreboard is showing all zeroes and you're shaking hands after yet another victory. If all goes according to plan, the Bengals will emerge from this latest test as remarkably fit survivors.
Given the number of injuries that have ransacked the roster in the last two weeks, and the fact that after a physical eight-game gauntlet they have had just three days to prepare for the Dolphins, the Bengals know that Thursday night's game won't be pretty. They may not have quite as flawless a first quarter as they did against the New York Jets in Sunday's 49-9 thrashing. But they still can turn in a winning performance. Much like in their comparatively ugly overtime win at Buffalo three weeks ago, the Bengals understand there are no style points in the NFL. As long as they win, they are content.
Serious concerns have been raised, in Cincinnati and around the league, about these Thursday-night games. When teams have just a few days and little rest to prepare, particularly deep into the season, the players believe it's hard to perform at the same level they would if they had the time they're used to receiving between games. Perhaps having a bye week ahead of a Thursday game ought to be a league requirement, some say.
The irony of those complaints, though, is that they come at a time when the NFL may be considering expanding its Thursday-night rotation, adding games that could cause teams to play twice a season on that night. From a player's perspective, it's mind-boggling. From a dollars-and-cents perspective, it makes perfect sense.
On this game day, we kick off this edition of the Morning Stripes with one columnist's concern over the impact Thursday-night games really have:
That columnist is the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty, who joins the cavalcade of conscientious objectors to the NFL's Thursday-night policy. Among the points Daugherty makes is this one: football collisions are a lot worse than they may appear through a television camera positioned well away from the playing surface. The hits hurt. The hits are hard. The hits are real. It's been said football players go through the equivalent of several small car crashes each week. To suddenly have that same series of small car crashes four days later? That's rough.
Speaking of the Bengals' injuries, we've been writing about them all week on the ESPN NFL Nation Bengals blog, but theEnquirer's Joe Reedy also takes a look at how much of an issue they could be for Cincinnati on Thursday night. Specifically, he's looking at how much tougher the "grind" that coach Marvin Lewis likes to refer to will be with these injuries. Just two weeks ago, we were praising the Bengals for their apparent health. Now, they're one of the league's worse-off teams. Four players have been added to injured reserve during the regular season, with a fifth in the midst of an injury that will sideline him three to four weeks.
One player who battled through a somewhat significant injury on Sunday, and went on to have one of the best individual performances in franchise history, was receiver Marvin Jones. The second-year standout caught eight passes for 122 yards and a franchise-record four receiving touchdowns. That performance was good enough to make him the AFC Offensive Player of the Week, the Dayton Daily News' Jay Morrison writes.
One of the Bengals' former players, running back Bernard Scott, appears to be getting fully up to speed with the Baltimore Ravens' playbook, according to the Baltimore Sun. After he was released by Cincinnati earlier this season, Scott was picked up by the Ravens, and he practiced for the first time Wednesday. He's not sure how ready he'll be for this weekend's game at Cleveland, but rest assured, he'll be wanting to play next weekend when the Bengals travel to Baltimore.
All right, go get your game faces on, folks. Kickoff will be here before you know it.