On tough day, Rey is Bengals' bright spot

BALTIMORE -- Vincent Rey squeezed his large frame into a narrow space just outside the small blue locker that contained his belongings as an army of reporters, eager to ask all about one of the best individual performances of his NFL career, surrounded him.

A career-high in tackles and sacks gave the Cincinnati Bengals linebacker plenty of reasons to smile, but he struggled to.

The bottom line? He was hurting. Pained by a second straight overtime loss and annoyed by an outcome he and his teammates had spent all of Sunday afternoon dreading, Rey felt there was very little for him to actually be happy about.

"I want to win," he said. "Winning is all I want."

Winning didn't happen Sunday. After Cincinnati's offense rallied to tie the game at 17 on a Hail Mary touchdown reception as time in regulation expired, the Bengals still ended up falling to Baltimore in overtime, 20-17. It was their second overtime loss in as many weeks, leaving them with very little to celebrate in the moments immediately after the game.

Overall for the Bengals, it was an ugly game. In addition to the defeat, the Bengals were slapped with nine penalties for an unfathomable 134 yards of infractions. Their offense wasn't in sync, completing just 47 percent of its passes, giving up five sacks and throwing three interceptions. Down 17 at halftime, a win seemed far from the realm of possibility for Cincinnati.

As tough as the day was, though, Rey was an unmistakably bright spot.

The fourth-year linebacker, making just the third start of his career, had 15 tackles, three sacks and his first career interception. He seemed to be everywhere, flying through holes at random and making some of the game's biggest stops.

"He was on," fellow linebacker Vontaze Burfict said. "At the beginning of the game, we were both a little sluggish and I kept telling him, 'Let's go. Your play is going to come.'"

In the second quarter, a series of them came, as Rey recorded a sack and the interception.

"It was the calls," Rey said about being in position to make so many plays. "The coaches did a great job this week, and we practiced hard. I just happened to come free a couple of times.

"I was happy that I was the person that was free a lot."

Often when Burfict would begin directing a blocker a particular way, or forcing a ballcarrier to break in one direction over another, Rey would be on the back end of the play, breaking through a hole, ready to strike for a stop. His 15 tackles marked the first time any player other than Burfict had led the Bengals in tackles during a game this season.

"That's as good a game as you could possibly have as a middle linebacker," cornerback Chris Crocker said. "The kid stepped up. It's too bad we couldn't get the win for him."

Rey, who has played the last two games for the injured Rey Maualuga, has yet to see a win as a starter this season. Along with Sunday's loss, the Bengals also fell to the Dolphins in overtime in Miami last week, when he started his first game of the season.

The backup, who Burfict considers the Bengals' "smartest linebacker," should start next week against the Browns as Maualuga continues to recover from a knee injury suffered two weeks ago against the New York Jets. Maualuga is expected to be healthy when the Bengals come off a bye and play at San Diego on Dec. 1. When that return takes place, coaches will have quite the decision to make with respect to how much they want to play Rey.

For now, though, Rey doesn't want that decision to be part of his focus.

"I feel like I've been learning," Rey said. "The biggest thing I've learned from my fellow defensive players -- Vontaze and Reggie Nelson -- is go to the next play. Sometimes I get down on myself, but we have some leaders on this team that pick me up with I'm down. And it's my responsibility to pick other guys up, too."

He was picking the Bengals up in this game, all right. But as strong as his efforts were, they just weren't enough.