With Andy Dalton and Tyler Eifert injured, the Cincinnati Bengals now face an uphill battle towards the playoffs and a potential first-round bye.
It was painful to watch from the start, as the Steelers marched down the field and scored on their first drive. The Bengals looked as though they were going to answer Pittsburgh’s touchdown, but their drive ended at Pittsburgh’s four yard line when Andy Dalton throw an interception. To make matters worse, Dalton injured the thumb on his throwing hand and would not return to the game. The first drive also cost the Bengals their tight end, Tyler Eifer,t who left the game with a concussion.
Following the injuries, Cincinnati never quite got it going and lost in embarrassing fashion, 33-20. Losses happen in sports and when you don’t play your best against a top opponent it can be expected. The Bengals lost more than a game on Sunday, they lost their leader, a star player, the respect of the sports world, and their legitimacy as a Super Bowl contender.
The most important of these losses is the only one that is a guaranteed truth. The Bengals will be without both Andy Dalton and Tyler Eifert for an unspecified amount of time.. Andy Dalton is the leader of the Bengals and his MVP caliber play this season has been the driving force behind the Bengals success.
In addition, Dalton has started every gave of his NFL career, that’s 77 games in all. For over four and a half seasons the Red Rifle has been a pilliar of consistency for Cincinnati. Early reports list Daltons injury as a fractured thumb, which will cause him to miss at least one game.
Dalton’s replacement, A.J. McCarron, will likely get his first career start in San Francisco. McCarron looked mediocre in his first significant action, throwing for 280 yards and 2 touchdowns. The problem with his performance was his two costly interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Hopefully, a full week with the first team will help McCarron improve his performance. McCarron will have to step up until Dalton is able to return.
The other significant injury for the Bengals is their star tight end, Tyler Eifert. This was his first game back after suffering a neck injury against the Rams. His return was short lived, as he made one catch before he was taken out by Pittsburgh’s Mike Mitchell. The hit left Eifert with a concussion and caused him to miss the remainder of the game. Considering the stringent process that is the NFL’s concussion protocol, Eifert is likely to miss at minimum the 49ers game. The Bengals have shown that they can win without Eifert, but in the stretch run of the season it’s critical that Eifert get healthy.
The other losses that the Bengals suffered were purely perception. Cincinnati entered Sunday holding the top seed in the AFC and had a chance to claim the AFC North crown. In addition, it was a grand opportunity for the Bengals to silence their constant critics and claim their fifth straight playoff birth. In the NFL, perception is reality, and the Bengals failed to disprove the bad propaganda that many NFL analysts have been flooding the air waves with.
The next week will be filled an immeasurable amount of “Monday Morning QBs” saying how the Bengals are just pretenders and far from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender. It would not be surprising if some of these same NFL personalities say that the Bengals may miss the playoffs completely now that Dalton is out. All of this is just talk, a way to jump on the lets hate on the Bengals band wagon. Cincinnati still has a two game lead in the division and can claim the AFC North with a win next weekend and a Steelers loss.
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It’s a fact that you only go as far as your wins and reputation. When teams such as the Patriots or Steelers lose it is considered fluke, because they have their championships to fall back on. Teams like that are given instant credibility thanks to their past success. The Bengals on the other hand, are contending with 25 years of disappointments. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s Cincinnati was known for having one of the worst franchises in the NFL. Even during the Marvin Lewis renaissance, which has seen Cincinnati make the playoff six times, the Bengals have failed to win a playoff game. This failure follows the Bengals around like a dark cloud that just hangs over the heads of Bengals Nation.
Perceptions can be changed by wins in the NFL. Take for example the Seattle Seahawks, who until a few years ago were an after thought of the league. As soon as they won a Super Bowl the sports world’s view on them changed dramatically, and they are now a perennial favorite to win the NFC. Cincinnati will have an uphill battle ahead of them if they are to change how people think about and see them. Dalton and Eifert’s injuries will be tough hurdles to overcome moving forward.
If Cincinnati can rally from a tough division loss and put the bad press behind them, they will have the opportunity to put the criticism and bad perception behind them. The Bengals need to make the post season, win a few games, and bring home the NFL Championship. Though the actual process will be more difficult, the list is that simple. Cincinnati lost the battle but is still in position to win the war.