This is the second year in a row talking about hanging on by a thread. Where do you stand as a group, and how do you approach being in this situation again?
“At this point, we just have to handle our business and worry about what we can control, and that’s trying to win every game we play. We’ve been in this position before and made it. I think we made it our first year (2011) — we had to have help, and we were able to make it happen and end the year 9-7. At this point, we’ve just got to win and hope everything falls into place.”
How long did it take to just erase what happened on Monday?
“It’s what you have to do. You’ve got to move on from it. You’ve got to watch the tape and see what you need to get better at. You’ve got to move on, especially with this being a shorter week.”
Do you have any thoughts on what you saw on Monday night, with all the hits and injuries that occurred in that game?
“There are times where hits are going to happen. This is football. You want to protect guys as much as you can. You can’t have anything after the play, or any of that kind of stuff. That’s the stuff you don’t want to happen. For us as players, we’ve got to understand that you want to do it the right way. You don’t want anything bad to happen to anybody.”
We know some of the outrage people on the outside expressed on that subject. But on the inside, a lot of guys say publicly that this is what they signed up for. Is that what you hear from a lot of guys in the locker room?
“I don’t think anybody goes in expecting anything bad to happen. For most guys, we understand the game of football is very physical and stuff can happen. Hopefully everyone personally is going to try to do everything they can to prevent that from happening. There obviously is the risk of something happening playing this game.”
The last few games you guys have played against the Steelers seem to have been played on the brink. Do you think the rivalry is at a tipping point?
“I think it’s been said during the week, but it’s almost every game that it’s coming down to the end. We’ve been close. Obviously they’ve won more than we have since I’ve been here. We’ve been close in a lot of these games. They are always hard-fought games. I keep saying that (laughs).”
Some guys on the defense talked about needing to finish. On offense, it seems like you guys sometimes have your struggles in that area as well. Are you guys talking about the same thing?
“Yeah. If we could’ve gone down (the field) and gotten a field goal or touchdown at any point in that fourth quarter or later in the third quarter, it could’ve changed the game. We’ve got to be better too. It’s not just a defensive thing, it’s something offensively. We had our chances, and we didn’t get it done.”
Some defensive players talked about how the Steelers’ offense changed some of what they were doing with the run game in the second half. Did their defense do anything different on defense in the second half?
“No they didn’t. It wasn’t a drastic change. We just didn’t execute as well as we did in the first half.”
“When you turn on the tape for the Bears, you see a football team that is probably playing better than what their record shows. They’ve beaten three good football teams, and they’ve lost some close games in their other contests. They made the switch to the young quarterback, and Trubisky (Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky) has done a good job of taking care of the football. They continue to build the offense around him and his skills, and like I said, he’s taking care of the football. We know they have a strong running game, and we have to be spot on in our things defensively. On defense, they’re very explosive and physical up front in their front group. They do a great job of limiting you in the running game, and they’re going to challenge you on the outside. Their young guy, Cohen (Bears RB Tarik Cohen), is one of the young, electrifying returners in the NFL. He’s a guy we have to account for on special teams. (The Bears) get your attention when you turn on the tape.”
Is there a little concern for you with at linebacker and secondary, considering injuries and a possible suspension?
“Yeah, we have to have guys step up and play. That’s why the rosters are built with 53 players. We’re going to have guys step up and get opportunities. That’s part of life within the NFL.”
It seems particularly brutal after the Monday Night game, losing some starters along with the short week of practice …
“I don’t think the Bears are going to give us any qualifiers for that (laughs).”
Do you feel like the week after a Steelers games that you have more guys out than normal?
“I would need to go back and research that. You maybe already have (laughs).”
It doesn’t help that this is a short week …
“No, it doesn’t. But we will be ready to go.”
Will any of the players that were injured in the Steelers game have to go on the Reserve/Injured list?
“I don’t know that.”
With George Iloka and his potential suspension, is there concern about how the NFL is deciding who gets suspended and for how long? It seems like there is no rhyme or reason with suspensions …
“Why don’t you come up here (laughs)? They can’t suspend you — or fine you.
“That was brought to George’s defense, very appropriately I think. There was a reference made that I thought was an overstatement on certain things. There were some plays that happened last season that were brought to the attention of the competition committee after the season. These weren’t those types of plays — plays that happen within the scope of football. We’ve done a lot of changes and revisions in how the game is taught, but this is still, at the end of the day, football. Because it occurs on Sunday or Monday, I don’t think we look at that any differently.”
If this happened on a Sunday afternoon game and not in the national spotlight, do you think it would be looked at differently? “I don’t know that or that determination, but some of that had been brought up.”
Were you surprised that George was suspended for that hit?
“I’m not going to (talk more about this). This is over. But I guess I can answer that — yes, I was surprised (laughs).”
Bengals Director of Communications Emily Parker: “For what it is worth, Iloka’s suspension has been overturned.”
Lewis: “Look at this — breaking news (laughs). I told you all that you could come up here and do this (laughs).”
Do you think it’s possible to eliminate all hits to the head? It seems almost impossible …
“(Laughs) anything else?”
There has been a national conversation about the Bengals vs. Steelers rivalry, and a lot of people watched that game with the late hits and unnecessary roughness calls and are starting to wonder if it has gone too far. What do you think about that?
“We don’t want any of that. I don’t think either side wants to have any of that. The unnecessary roughness that occurred early in the game … We don’t want to have a player hit with an illegal hit and then stood over. I don’t think anybody wants that, either Coach Tomlin or myself, or any of the clubs. I think both of us made it clear to our players, and that’s not a look that we want in the National Football League.”
Why weren’t both penalties against Juju Smith-Schuster — unnecessary roughness and taunting— enforced together on that play, instead of needing to choose one to decline?
“The taunt came within the scope of the play. The ball carrier was not tackled yet. That was the explanation (we received). Those things (taunting penalties) usually happen after the fact, but in this case, it wasn’t.”
With the new rule of two personal foul violations …
“Unnecessary roughness is not a (personal foul).”
They’re separate categories?
“They’re separate categories.”
Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons said he has stayed in contact with Bears kicker Mike Nugent since he left last season. Have you?
“I have had a few text conversations with Mike, but not as many, probably, as Darrin (laughs).”
Are you glad to see him back?
“I’ll be glad to see him kick off for the second half, just that one time (laughs). That’s what I’ll be happy for — one chance to kick off in the second half (laughs). Mike and (his wife) Emily are fine people. They’re blessed with a young family now, and it’s great. He did great job here for us, and I’m glad that he got a couple more opportunities this year. But, I’d like for him to have one opportunity for him to kick in Paul Brown Stadium — for the second half kickoff.”
If Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones can’t play on Sunday, you still have William Jackson and Darqueze Dennard. Jackson has played well, generally speaking. I know there was the play on the sideline, where Jackson didn’t push Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell out of bounds, but …
“You have a qualifier (laughs).”
It seems like they’ve played well in coverage, though ...
“Yeah. Darqueze has had an outstanding season for us. He’s played through bumps and bruises for us, and he continues to answer the bell. William is a young guy, who you all see now, is still learning. You see why these young guys stand by me (at practice) sometimes — because they’re still learning. That’s the part of the National Football League — sometimes, as talented as they can be, it takes a little longer to get the whole grasp and scope of everything. (William) is a good kid and is going to be a great pro — likely an All-Pro for a long time. But he’s still grasping it. Unfortunately, when you’re living on the edge of the wire, those things kill you.”
We saw a lot of Dennard on Monday, even after he was injured. What has his toughness meant to you?
”He is (tough). He’s everything we expected. Like William, like Dre (Kirkpatrick) and like John Ross, everyone is looking is for them to be out there right away because they’re a top pick, and they have to fight through some injuries. Darqueze had to do that as a young player, but he stayed with it, believed in himself and stayed true to it. Obviously the club has believed in him, and everyone is reaping the benefit of it.”
Giovani Bernard was thrust into action and played well on Monday after Joe Mixon left with an injury. Considering he tore his ACL a little over a year ago, being able to answer that call on Monday seems pretty outstanding ...
“It is. He’s the ultimate pro. We know the character of the kid and the heart the kid has, and obviously he’s been a stalwart here.”
You mentioned John Ross earlier. With the injury situation, it would seem like there’s a good chance he’ll be active this weekend. Has he progressed enough to where he can be a part of the game plan?
“I think he’ll have an opportunity. It might be at cornerback (laughs). He’s done it, he’s played it (laughs). That was the first video I ever saw of John Ross, was him playing cornerback. But yes, this is a good opportunity for John to possibly be suited up this week. We just broke news again in here (laughs).”
It would be too late to actually work him in at cornerback though, right?
“(Shrugs) I’m not going to write your story for you, Butch (Bengals.com editor Geoff Hobson) (laughs).”