After receiving their first weekend off of the season, the Cincinnati Bengals return to work Monday afternoon as they begin preparations for next Sunday's showdown at Baltimore. Like the Bengals, the Ravens will be entering that game looking for a win after dropping a game 24-18 at Cleveland on Sunday.
With Thursday night's 22-20 overtime loss at Miami now several days behind them, and the prospects of finishing the season without star defensive tackle Geno Atkins part of their new identity, the Bengals are looking for a reset of sorts this week. They're hoping the combination of the time off and the disruption of momentum caused by last week's streak-stopping defeat (they had won four straight before Thursday) will help them push a figurative restart button on the season and continue with the type of winning ways that were the hallmark of the first half of the year.
They were 6-2 through the first eight games. Another 6-2 mark in the latter half of the season would lead to a 12-4 record that they very much would accept.
In order to see that type of finish take place, the Bengals have to rally from the adverse situations that appeared after this off weekend went into effect. They have to find a way to fight through the injury plague that has descended upon them. In addition to Atkins, they have recently lost cornerback Leon Hall and defensive back Taylor Mays to season-ending injuries. They have to find a way to keep up an intense pass rush, even without Atkins. They have to find a way to keep running back Giovani Bernard rolling, even as he likely has to play the rest of the year with a rib injury picked up at Miami.
The Bengals also have to find a way to get quarterback Andy Dalton back to performing at the consistently high level that he was before last Thursday night. Even though he threw for more than 300 yards for a fourth straight game, he also had three interceptions and had trouble establishing rhythm and comfort in the pocket. The Dolphins had something to do with that. So did the five drops his receivers had. That was the most they've had in a game he has quarterbacked in his career.
If all of this can come together, the Bengals' reset could allow this to be the special season it still seems to have the potential of being. If none of this takes shape, though, the Bengals could right now be on the precipice of a tailspin.
As they resume the year, here are a few Monday Morning Stripes:
The Associated Press' Joe Kay impresses upon readers of this story the reasons why a reset of sorts is needed. In this follow on Cincinnati's loss in South Florida and its bizarre finish, Kay examines the possibility that maybe, like many of us have been saying, the Bengals simply had this loss coming. They had been rolling, times were great and they were grinding out victories even being a banged-up and bruised mess. Their luck, at least for this stretch, finally ran out. After looking like one of the league's best teams with a 49-9 win over the New York Jets, four days later, they had one of the worst losses of Week 9.
One of the issues that cropped up in the aftermath of Thursday's loss had to do with the way the game ended. Backed up into his own end zone, Dalton, on the game's final third down, backed up beyond the goal line as he dropped back to pass. Just as soon as he did, he stepped up in the passing pocket and back into the field of play. When he did, his body, seemingly fully out of the end zone, got hit by Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake. When Wake wrapped him up, Dalton went down in the end zone. A safety was ruled. The play was reviewed. It ended up getting upheld because while Dalton's body wasn't in the end zone when he was first hit, the back of the ball appeared to break the plane of the goal line. As long as he went down, that automatically made the play a safety, by rule. As you can read in this item from the Dayton Daily News by Jay Morrison, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis wasn't sure Friday that the officials got the call right.
Either way, the safety was declared and the game was officially over. In this posting from early in the weekend, Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke took a look at the play and determined that replay made the officials' point valid. The ball was on the goal line, he summarized. It was a safety.
Finally, as the Bengals hit the reset switch, they will be looking in the coming days to add to their defensive line depth. With Atkins now done and due to go on injured reserve sometime this week, Cincinnati likely will bring another player to the team who they can add as part of their pass-rush package right away. After striking out on former Cowboys tackle Jay Ratliff -- who the Bengals contacted, according to ESPN's Ed Werder -- the Bengals have several different directions they can go. The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy looks at some of them.