INDIANAPOLIS - The Dean has seen it all through 142 Bengals games, the most on a roster trying to right itself after two blow-out losses in the last three weeks on the road to the AFC elite.
Defensive lineman Robert Geathers acknowledged it's going to be a challenging week preparing for AFC North leader Baltimore at Paul Brown Stadium next Sunday. It is guys like Geathers who are going to make sure everyone is on board for a playoff race where the Bengals are bruised and battered but are still just a half-game out of the AFC North lead at 3-2-1.
"We've got a good enough of core guys, good veterans. We won't let it fall apart," Geathers said after Sunday's effort blew apart a 27-0 verdict to the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. "We've got the guys to dig ourselves out of this hole. We're playing Baltimore next week. We get ahead in our division. Take it from there, one game at a time."
This was a tough game to take. Yes, the offense did nothing. Yes, they were simply devastated on defense. For most of the game they played with three backup linebackers and a rookie slot cornerback. But no, no one expected this, either. For the second time in three weeks, they gave up more than 500 yards. They've given up 107 points in three straight, the most they've given up in three games since that stretch in 2010 they had to play two waiver wire cornerbacks on Thanksgiving Night because of a raft of injuries that Sunday.
"The biggest thing is we have to keep believing in each other," said cornerback Terence Newman, the senior NFL player on the roster in his third season as a Bengal. "This is something this team has been doing since before I got here. It's something that shouldn't change. I think we just have to believe in each other. Believe in the system. Not that anybody doesn't. Just go out and execute. (We're) always talking about guys making plays. You just have to let the plays come to you. The plays will come. You just have to be accountable. If you're supposed to be in a gap, be in a gap. If you're supposed to have outside leverage on a coverage, be on outside leverage. Get back to the basics."
After a 3-0 start, the Bengals were supposed to be beyond the basics. They were supposed to be in the AFC elite instead of getting manhandled by a total of 70-17 to division leaders in New England and Indianapolis. They are clearly coming to a crossroads in their own division next Sunday against Baltimore and it would appear to be a week that calls for drastic measures. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the de facto offensive captain, wouldn't say if it was time for one of those player-only meetings, but it is clearly time for a review.
"We'll meet tomorrow and we'll talk about it," he said of the team's usual schedule with the coaches. "Today isn't the time to do it. Guys are mad, hot. We'll have to get back tomorrow, sit and watch the film and figure out where to go from there. See what we're doing, see what we're missing."
They're clearly missing people on defense. Sophomore Jayson DiManche made his first NFL start in place of injured SAM linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and when Vincent Rey made his seventh NFL start in place of injured middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, he found himself rather quickly trying to help rookie linebacker Marquis Flowers with the first significant scrimmage snaps of his career after Pro Bowl WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict went out with a cervical strain late in the first quarter.
After Colts slot receiver T.Y. Hilton had beaten cornerback Leon Hall for plays of 22, 14, and 46 yards, Hall left with a lower back strain early in the second quarter in favor of rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard and Hilton ended up with 107 yards on seven catches.
(Hilton is the second receiver in three weeks to have 100 yards after a season they allowed four.)
Burfict is the huge piece. The defensive quarterback with the radio helmet. It's the fifth time they've played either without him altogether or for most of the game. For the second time this season he left in the first half after hitting an opposing quarterback in the chest with his helmet. Head coach Marvin Lewis said when Burfict and Hall left, he thought the defense played from its heels.
"They're a big part of this team, but it isn't the first time a guy has been out," Newman said. "When someone goes out, somebody has to step up. It's an opportunity to show what they can do. You just have to shine in that moment."
Instead it was the Colts' Andrew Luck, the NFL's hottest quarterback, who shone, and he picked on the second level, just like the Patriots' Tom Brady attacked the Tez-less Bengals two weeks ago in Foxboro. His tight ends, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, combined for 116 yards, seven catches, and a touchdown. Running backs Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw combined for seven more, 77 yards and a touchdown. Plus, Richardson and Bradshaw rolled up 129 yards rushing on more than five yards rushing.
"They're a big part of our defense. Those guys are big losses, but we've had stars go out before," Geathers said. "Guys have to step it up. They're here for a reason. Play ball."
Last year, DiManche played 47 snaps from scrimmage. This year he's got 61. Flowers played most of his 48 snaps in the nickel on Sunday.
And the last thing the defense needed was to be on the field for another 80 snaps a week after taking 80 in the five-quarter tie against Carolina. But the Colts had them for 78 snaps. Plus, the Patriots ran 81 at them. A lot of snaps in three weeks. (Note the Panthers also got blown out on the road Sunday.)
"We've been on the field in practice. I played with those guys in the preseason, so it wasn't all that different," DiManche said. "No matter who is out there, you have to play well, you have to play hard. You have to do things the right way. If you don't, you can see what can happen out there.
"The communication can always better. That will come with practice and a little bit more time in the games. Not the communication just with the linebackers, but with everybody on the defense just in general. The more guys play, the more guys get experience…we've got some guys down, so guys are going to have to step up."
Even when everybody has been up and at it, they've had trouble stopping the run.
"They were able to run the ball pretty effectively on us," DiManche said. "In terms of getting yards after contact and they really came out and tried to set the tone to set up their offense. They're a great team, obviously. Andrew Luck did a great job. Trent Richardson ran hard all night. They stepped up to the occasion and I don't think we were able to do that today."
This was the season they were supposed to, and now they find themselves after a winless October trying to get into November above .500 with the Ravens in wait.
"It's not how we play football. You guys know that. It's embarrassing," Newman said. "We flat-out got embarrassed today. There's nothing else I can say about it.
"There's a lot of football to be played. We still can do the things we want do. It's just a little bit harder," Newman said. "We just have to make sure the guys know what do, how to do it, and do it 100 percent. If you make mistakes, make them going 100 miles an hour. It's easy to say that, but I think that's the way you have to go about the game."
A hundred miles an hour. That's about how fast the Ravens are coming out of first place into PBS.