Paul Daugherty, email@example.com
December 13, 2015
It was an angry, sour game and it left every Cincinnati sports fan wondering yet again if the bad stuff will ever end. Andy Dalton has good company. Allow us to make some introductions, Mr. Dalton. You've only been here five years.
To your immediate right, the big fellow who was indestructible until the Super Bowl, when his leg snapped like a piece of dry balsa. Say hello to Tim Krumrie.
That guy over there? That's Stanley Wilson. The young kid in the photo, wearing a University of Cincinnati jersey? Greg Cook.
Johnny Cueto, Andy Dalton. Andy Dalton, Johnny Cueto.
And of course you've met Mr. Palmer. Can I introduce you to Kenyon Martin?
Bengals columnists Jim Owczarski and Paul Dehner Jr. examine the team's 33-20 loss to the Steelers. The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar
Cincinnati's roll call of sports misery added a name Sunday. Dalton fractured his thumb. Making a tackle, of all things. Count on one thumb the number of premier quarterbacks who have ever broken a thumb making a tackle.
Dalton is out an indeterminate amount of time. Four weeks? Six? He's seeing a specialist Monday.
A thumb on a quarterback's throwing hand is a highly useful digit. The Bengals have three games left before the playoffs, and even with backup AJ McCarron as their QB, they should be favored in two of them, next week at San Francisco and Jan. 3 here against Baltimore.
That could mean a first-round bye and more than a month of healing before January becomes crucial. So maybe, all is not lost. The postgame locker room was not funereal, even though Dalton's injury came with a 20-33 whacking by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"We're equipped to handle this'' was Marvin Lewis' spin on the proceedings. We'll see. The Bengals are better able to withstand this sort of devastation than they've been since Dalton arrived. But no team is in good shape when it's All Pro-caliber, MVP candidate QB breaks his throwing thumb a month before the playoffs.
The two things the Bengals had relied on for 13 weeks – Dalton's arm and their overall good health – vanished on one odd, potentially season-defining play. Dalton attempted a shovel pass to Gio Bernard, after the Bengals had moved to the Steelers 4-yard line on their first possession. Lineman Stephon Tuitt intercepted the mini-throw. Dalton then semi-threw himself at Tuitt and landed weirdly on the thumb. Quarterbacks and kickers should never try to tackle anyone, ever.
What ensued was three-plus quarters of nasty football. Players on both sides misbehaving, losing cool and generally acting like jerks. "I don't think we stayed poised,'' Michael Johnson said. "The game is won between the whistles. Not with pushes and shoves, being tough guy.''
Or as Lewis put it, eloquently, "You don't play football with your doggone mouth.''
The injury-free bubble in which the Bengals have lived all season burst on Sunday. Dalton wasn't the only casualty who "walked to the locker room under his own power.'' The route between bench and stadium tunnel looked like I-75 at Hopple Street during morning rush.
Dalton's injury is paramount, obviously. Lewis and his players spoke glowingly of McCarron. Poised, he is. Calm, not awed by moments and situations. "Nothing timid about him,'' Andrew Whitworth said. "He has a great charisma about him in the huddle.''
"You don't win national championships for no reason,'' said Marvin Jones, referring to the two college titles McCarron won at Alabama. "I don't think it'll be too much of a gap.''
Of course it will. You can be Capt. Charisma in college, but jumping from Saturday to Sunday takes more than a leap of faith. "How many snaps do you typically take with the first team during a normal week?'' someone wondered.
"None,'' McCarron said.
Hue Jackson's offense is not connect-the-dots. It's a sophisticated piece of intellectual machinery that took Dalton a year to master. McCarron has six days.
Then he has to display his mastery in front of 11 guys who want to rip off his head.
"Timing'' could be problematic, Whitworth explained. "Understanding where each of us is. We do a lot of different things, where the ball is going all over the place. That takes a lot of timing. It's a game of inches. You're off a fraction here or there, you're not going to have success.''
He wasn't suggesting that McCarron can't make the leap. Only that it's going to take a mighty effort.
All McCarron can do is promise his best effort. "Whatever I need to do, to not let the team down,'' he said. He also expressed a surprising bit of self awareness. When someone asked McCarron what he had going for him next Sunday, he said, "Maybe being so young that you don't really realize how big the games are. You're going to have some mistakes and you better learn from them quick.''
It might be worth tossing a little sympathy Cincinnati's way, but the NFL doesn't do sympathy. Next Man Up is up. Time to show off. The season might depend on it.