The fact that Jay Gruden might actually be leaving the Cincinnati Bengals first hit me late Sunday afternoon inside the Bengals' locker room.
Just after chatting for about eight minutes with reporters who wanted all his insights on quarterback Andy Dalton's failures to the team's departure from the running game in the second half of the day's 27-10 playoff loss to the Chargers, the offensive coordinator walked around and thanked a few of his players. He was going to see them all again the next day when he held exit interviews with them, but in the first few minutes after the season-ending defeat, it seemed he wanted them to be sure they heard from him.
Specifically, I noticed Gruden casually stride over to receiver Marvin Jones' locker. The second-year wideout was pulling on a shirt when Gruden, holding a mostly-eaten slice of pizza, said in between bites, "You're a hell of a receiver." He wasn't the first person to offer Jones encouraging words that afternoon and he wasn't the last. But just seeing him offer his well wishes to a player he might be coaching against next year made it hit home.
Gruden really was probably making one of his final trips through the Bengals locker room.
Of course, anything can change in the coming weeks, but all signs are pointing to Gruden possibly getting a head-coaching job elsewhere as his interview period officially begins. According to reports, he talked with the Tennessee Titans on Tuesday and ESPN's Ed Werder said Gruden will be meeting with Washington on Wednesday.
Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer also has been linked to interviews for head-coaching vacancies. He's expected to visit with Minnesota and Washington this week himself, and a third team next week.
Now that Gruden and Zimmer are being courted, the Bengals' movers and shakers are formulating their own backup plans in the event one or both assistants leave. One likely on-staff replacement for Gruden could be running backs coach Hue Jackson, whose name has come up as a possible candidate for head-coaching vacancies. Before coming on staff in Cincinnati, he was the Oakland Raiders' head coach.
As we get rolling with Wednesday's Morning Stripes, we start with a look at Jay Gruden, the job applicant:
Compiled by ESPN.com Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky, here is a look at Gruden on the same afternoon the Titans apparently discussed their vacancy with him. This may or may not be a shameless plug for a certain Bengals reporter who offers his perspective on Gruden for Kuharsky.
Stepping onto the field and into the replay booth, the NFL's head of officials, Dean Blandino, said Tuesday night on NFL Network that referee Jeff Triplette's crew made the right determination on two reviewed calls in Sunday's game. The decision to start Cincinnati's final play of the first half at the two-second mark was correct, said Blandino, who was at the game and echoed those sentiments to reporters there at halftime. Since the side official originally ruled that forward progress on a Jermaine Gresham catch along the sideline had been stopped before he was forced out of bounds, the clock ticked off about 11 seconds before the replay booth stepped in to review the play. Here's NFL.com's look at that call and another involving rookie running back Giovani Bernard.
From the fashion and warmth department, there's this from the San Diego Union-Tribune's Matt Gehlken on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Apparently he's a perfect 6-0 since 2012 whenever he wears gloves on his throwing hand, as he did in Sunday's wild-card playoff win.