After not practicing again Friday, tight end Tyler Eifert is classified as doubtful with his pinched nerve and the NFL touchdown leader likely won't play Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) in Cleveland.
Injuries have finally caught up with the Bengals after a remarkably healthy first half of the season. As usual, when they come it hits one position group and this time it is in the secondary.
Backup cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris (ribs) is also classified as doubtful after not practicing all week, although starting corner Adam Jones (foot) and slot corner Leon Hall (back) practiced for the first time this week in Friday's walk-through and are listed as questionable. But starting safety George Iloka (groin) missed practice for the second straight day and is listed as questionable.
The Bengals may not know what they've got in the secondary until after Saturday morning's up-tempo work before they leave for Cleveland. They've got two cornerbacks on the practice squad in rookie Troy Hill, who has been there all year, and veteran Asa Jackson, signed on Monday. Jackson, who played four games with Baltimore this season and blocked two kicks, would be the likely move but they'd have to make room on the roster.
To make it even more interesting, the other starting cornerback, Dre Kirkpatrick surfaced on Friday's injury report with an ankle issue and is listed as probable after going limited. Linebackers Vontaze Burfict (knee) and Emmanuel Lamur (ankle) went full Friday and are probable as is right tackle Andre Smith after he got a rest.
They look to be covered at safety with Shawn Williams and rookie Derron Smith, although Smith has played just three snaps from scrimmage.
Eifert, who got hurt recovering a fumble last Sunday in the win over the Rams, suffered a similar injury as a rookie two years ago in the next-to-last game of the season. He sat out the AFC North title game in Pittsburgh the next week and when he tried to play the Wild Card Game the week after that against the Chargers he lasted only three plays. But this injury is hard to put into that category because each pinched nerve in the neck, otherwise known as "a stinger," is different when it comes to regaining strength.
In Cleveland Friday, as expected, starting cornerback Joe Haden, regular wide receivers Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel, and backup cornerback/kickoff returner Justin Gilbert were all ruled out with concussions. A trio of starters, left guard Joel Bitonio (ankle), defensive end Randy Starks (knee) and outside linebacker Nate Orchard (groin) is listed as questionable after going limited Friday.
REMEMBER DECEMBER: The calendar has flipped to December and the core of a Bengals team that has won 12 out of 18 games in December to make the last four postseasons knows it's time to flip the switch.
But coaches and players know this 9-2 team is just a little bit different than the rest. The word came down from the head man on Wednesday and coordinators like Hue Jackson kept passing it on to his offensive group. Nose tackle Domata Peko said Lewis made that clear.
"Whatever your routine was last week, what's been helping us win, turn your routine up," Peko recounted of the head man's theme of the week. "Do things a little different. Do something a little extra to turn it up another notch."
Or, if you're e Jackson, you repeat what the kids tell you.
"We have to start to flip the switch. Start to get hot. Get on a run here. Got to get 'turnt.' That's what they teach me," Jackson said of the lingo. "They're going to turnt me or I'm going to turnt them.
"I made that clear. It's time. All the fun stuff is over. It's a grind now. We all know how to eliminate distractions. It's been a long season, but this is the grind part of the season. We understand how to do things right. We know what's expected."
You're looking at a club that has more than a dozen players who since 2011 have come into December chasing something. But there's a little more "turnt."
"This team isn't trying to make the playoffs. We're trying to go the Super Bowl," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "(Jackson) wants us to be headed up. It's just a reminder. Are we better every week?"
And, with Jackson, it gets back to the running game. As CBS and NFL Network analyst Solomon Wilcots said Friday, "You don't have to tell Hue Jackson to run the football."
"This is the stretch. Let's just keep it real. You guys know what it is," Jackson said after practice Wednesday. "It's December football now. It's getting cold. I was cold as heck out there today. I underdressed. That's the last time that happens. It was really freaking cold. I forget how cold it gets here. Its football time now."
Another December note. Lewis is 5-1 against the Browns in December with the only loss in his first season in a 22-14 stunner in the 2003 finale at Paul Brown Stadium that prevented them from finishing with a winning record and a shot at the playoffs.
WEATHER REPORT: For the first week of December the Bengals drew a good weather game in Cleveland. According to the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio, there is no chance of rain for Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) against the Browns that kicks off in 47 degrees under mostly sunny skies and rises to 49 during the game. A light wind out the south is projected for five to eight miles per hour.