After Saints quarterback Drew Brees scorched them Sunday in what amounted to a seven-on-seven drill, the Bengals realized there is no practice left. Knocked to one knee with one of the worst losses in franchise history, 51-14, the 5-4 Bengals head to Baltimore next with a chance to take a bigger step into the play-off picture.
"We're fine. We've still got seven games left," said quarterback Andy Dalton after his offense did nothing despite scoring briskly on the first drive. "We've still got seven games left. Everything is in front of us. I think we may be a young team, but we've got guys that understand what we're trying to accomplish we can. That's what the focus has to be right now."
Wide receiver Tyler Boyd, one of the few Bengals that did anything in the brief 20 minutes they had the ball (three catches 65 yards), knows all about Baltimore. He knows how quickly it can all change. His catch with 44 seconds left in the season down there put Buffalo in and knocked out Baltimore.
"The way to bounce back is we need to beat the Ravens," Boyd said. "That's a game to solidify getting into the post season. It's a huge one and if we get past this one I think we'll be fine still."
The numbers back him up. The Bengals currently have the sixth and last AFC play-off seed. Of the other two 5-4 AFC teams, the Bengals have the tiebreaker over Miami and they have wins over the 4-5 Ravens and Colts.
Veteran linebacker Vincent Rey, who played in his 121st game Sunday and has been to five postseasons, has been here before.
"Right when it feels like the sky is falling, you go to Baltimore and take care of business, and you're right in the middle of the fight," Rey said. "That's the funny part about it. It feels like things have been going haywire, but we're going to Baltimore — a team that we handled at our house and (beat in the season finale) last year."
But the defense has never reeled into a stretch run like this one is reeling. Behind Brees' 22 of 25 game of darts, the Saints rolled for 509 yards as the Bengals became the first team in the Super Bowl era to allow 500 yards in three straight games. He put up the most points by a foe in Cincinnati in 51 years of pro football in scoring on all eight of his possessions and put the Bengals on pace to allow 500 points for the first time ever.
Images from week 10 as the Bengals host the Saints at its annual "Salute To Service" game.
The depth chart, of course, is re-runs of M*A*S*H. The Bengals went in without two of their starting linebackers (Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil) and the other one, middle linebacker Preston Brown, is hobbled by an ankle injury. Slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard is also out.
"Thankfully, we've got guys like Nick Vigil coming back, Vontaze Burfict coming back, Darqueze Dennard, (tight end) Tyler Kroft," Rey said. "We've got a lot of these guys coming back that are going to help us. The rest of us, we're still going to be in the jerseys. We've got to go out and make plays, get off blocks, hit guys and make plays, and not let our guy make the catch. Just fight, fight, fight. There's no cavalry coming, as some people say. They're not coming. Yeah, we've got some guys coming back like Vontaze, but hey, we're the same guys. We're going to have to go out there and make plays."
With all the injured backers, teams are hurting the Bengals up and over the middle. Brees killed them softy in the first half on 17 of 19 violins, the longest two just 28 and 27 yards to running back Mark Ingram on flips out of the backfield and one went for a touchdown when safeties Shawn Williams and Jessie Bates missed the tackles at the goal line. The Bengals have also yet to stop the run this year and the Saints did it again on 5.2 yards per carry.
This one was simple. Down 14-7, the Bengals had the ball for the second time and for the second time they moved the ball great and went for it on fourth-and-one at the Saints 40. But a false start on tight end Matt Lengel was as good as a pick-six in this game because it forced a punt. Then at the end of the half Dalton nearly threw a pick-six on a bomb he underthrew John Ross near the goal line. Wide receiver Alex Erickson dragged down safety Marcus Williams at the Bengals 17 with eight seconds left, but that's all the time Brees needed. TD pass to Michael Thomas. 35-7 at the half.
"Bad decision bad throw," Dalton said.
Rey has been on some top ten defenses here, three to be exact, so what he saw Sunday shocked him.
"At the end the day it's not what 40 you ran or how you jumped or how strong you are," Rey said. "This game is moving and contact. You have to hit people. You have to hit them and set a tone. We didn't do that today. They're pushing the pile on us. The mark of our team, the mark of our defense has been we're the physical guys and we weren't today."
After the game head coach Marvin Lewis wouldn't take any questions about coaching and/or personnel changes on defense. The Bengals pointed the fingers at themselves Sunday, but they also admitted there is still is what they refer to as "gray," area in the transition to first-year coordinator Teryl Austin's scheme.
"The frustrating thing is to put the time in and you still don't have the answers," said left end Carlos Dunlap, whose line didn't get a hand on Brees during a sack-less day. "Normally you find the answers when you put the effort in. It doesn't seem like we're doing a good job finding the answers. I can't say its effort on my part or the others guys' part because I feel like a lot of guys study hard the same way.
"The verbiage is changed, but the defense is very similar," Dunlap said of what Austin runs compared to what the Bengals played the previous decade under Mike Zimmer and Paul Guenther. "It's called different. Adjustments are different. We've had (half a season) to get it understood, but evidently there must be a lot of gray for us to go out there and play the way we did."
Shawn Williams is also looking to clear up the gray because he knows the playoffs are in the grasp. On Sunday he expressed confidence in Austin's calls but asked his teammates to get deeper into the playbook.
"I have confidence in what's being called. But during the week we have to take ownership of the business. This is a business," Williams said. "When you go home after 5 o'clock it has to still be football after you leave the building. There's gray and better teams are coming in that we have to play and we have to make sure we're not putting ourselves in a worse position than we're already in. You have to fix all the gray and make sure we know exactly what do and how they're going to attack us."
Williams said he had a telling discussion with Burfict a couple of weeks ago when Williams found himself worrying about where other players were ending upon plays.
"Tez said as long as you worry about other people doing their jobs, it's not going to make you feel any better," Williams said. "You end up worrying about what you can't control and it's not good.
"I know we've got the players but we need to get on the same page."
After watching old friend Zimmer do it for Minnesota against the Saints, the Bengals did tried to control things by deploying three safeties and teamed Clayton Fejedelem with Williams and Bates in an attempt to cover the screens crosses. When Fejedelem got nicked, they went with the little-used Brandon Wilson. Nothing worked.
We were trying to get the three safeties out there and they'd throw the ball, but we have three safeties that can cover,' Williams said. "The other point is we tried to get them to run the ball. I thought that's how we could slow them down if they tried to run the ball. But once they got rolling …"
Dunlap has also been to five postseasons. Big wound, he seemed to say Sunday, but not fatal.
"It hurts badly," he said. "But we can come in and sit around and mope and get our heads down and tuck our tail even though we have everything we want in front of us. I'm not going to sit here and fold. We still control our own destiny. We've got an AFC opponent next week. That's a chance for an AFC win so we can control what we can control."