Updated: 9:15 p.m.
His face betrayed his words.
Bengals cornerback Leon Hall, who has never missed a game in his five-year, 73-game career, appears lost for the season with a torn Achilles. With his crutches at his locker after Sunday's 24-17 loss to the Steelers, Hall was asked what the doctors were telling him as he went to get an MRI.
"I know what they're telling me, but I'm thinking the best," Hall said.
All indications are the Bengals are going to put Hall on season-ending injured reserve as soon as Monday.
Hall, feeling a burning sensation in his foot, limped off the field with 1:51 left in the first half during a tough drive Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger turned his attention to wide receiver Antonio Brown's matchup on Hall and beat him with throws of 21, 15 and 17 yards. With Adam Jones on the inactive list, the Bengals were down to two healthy cornerbacks, Nate Clements and Kelly Jennings. Safety Chris Crocker was going to play the slot at times, but he had to go full-time.
"It changes your mentality if you're a coordinator because Leon allows us to do so many things," Crocker said. "He allows us to play a lot of man-to-man, he allows us to do a lot of things in zone. He's a big part of what we do. You lose him in a game, it's big. And the guy never gets hurt? How do you plan for that?"
Crocker shook his head, indicating the diagnosis on Hall was not good.
"Anytime you don't come back into a game, it's not good," Crocker said.
The Bengals last week worked out David Jones, a cornerback they had for a few seasons that left in the Reggie Nelson trade before last season. Morgan Trent, cut to make room for Adam Jones on the active roster last week, is now with the Colts.
GREEN VOWS NEXT WEEK: The Bengals went through the first half of the season relatively unscathed by injuries, but while they appeared to have suffered their first season-ending injury to a starter in cornerback Leon Hall, they also appeared to have dodged a bullet with rookie sensation A.J. Green. Green, leading all NFL rookie wide receivers in yards and touchdowns, made an astounding 36-yard touchdown catch between Steelers safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark to cut the Steelers lead to 14-7 with 14 seconds left in the first quarter.
Quarterback Andy Dalton threw one of those In-The-Green-Hornet-We-Trust bombs and Green didn't disappoint. He knifed between Polamalu and Clark and with his right leg extended, he hit Clark as he came down with the ball. Green lay on the ground for a couple of moments and then limped off, still holding on to his sixth touchdown catch of the season.
"Once that thing is in my hand, I'm not letting it go," he said. "It's a hyperextended knee. It's not too bad. I think I'll be back next week (in Baltimore). I came down and hit him and my knee just went back. After halftime it got stiff. It just didn't feel right."
Green touched it one more time in the first half, a seven-yard reverse on which he seemed to pull up as left outside linebacker James Harrison chased him out of bounds.
"Yeah, it didn't feel right," Green said. "It tightened up at halftime, but it never loosened up."
The tough thing for Green and his teammates is knowing he could have made another play in a game lost by one score.
"It's one of the toughest things — to watch when you know you can make plays to help your team," Green said. "It happens, but we have another tough game next week so I have to be back for that one."
The Bengals have now played two North games and in each one they didn't have one of their two prized rookies on the field in the second half. Bruce Gradkowski relieved Dalton for the win in the opener in Cleveland.
It's a play that Dalton could have pulled out of his pocket again Sunday with Green observing how Polamalu and Clark like to patrol the middle and challenge teams to throw it deep.
"It was a post corner," Green said. "Their safeties like to squat and take the under routes and Andy just threw it up there and gave me a chance."
Dalton didn't get much from his Nos. two and three receivers once Green left. Jerome Simpson, who had no catches on four targets, had a drop and lost a contested ball with cornerback Ike Taylor. Andre Caldwell caught three of the eight balls thrown to him for 25 yards. He and Dalton appeared to have a miscommunication on one third-down incompletion and Dalton overthrew him slightly on a throw over the middle that got tipped for Pittsburgh's first of two interceptions in the fourth quarter.
"The ball was a little bit high," Dalton said. "I didn't see what happened, but it was tipped up and they intercepted it."
Dalton and Green have connected for five TDs, five shy of the NFL rookie record.
STEELERS SALUTE DALTON: The Beard shaved The Red Baron. But Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said he approached Dalton after the game and told him he was impressed. Later he told the media that Dalton didn't force it and the Steelers just made plays.
Keisel wasn't the only Steeler impressed with Dalton after he finished 15-of-30 passing for 170 yards and had his team tied at 17 with a triple-digit passer rating (106.8) heading into the fourth quarter.
Dalton's opposite number, Ben Roethlisberger, made his way to see him after going to 1-0 against him. (Roethlisberger is 2-0 vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick and 9-4 vs. Carson Palmer.)
"He's a good player. He spins the ball really well, especially with the wind. He was spinning it really well," Roethlisberger said. "He seems to be very cerebral. He knows what's going on out there. I think that he is playing the best out of all the rookie quarterbacks. The other guys have numbers, but he makes some great throws. We were on the sideline, Byron, (Leftwich) Charlie (Batch) and I and we were saying 'Oh, that's a good throw.' He makes good throws, he anticipates and I think he's playing really well. I told him, 'We'll see you in a couple weeks, but you're playing lights out.' "
But in the end, it was the Steelers secondary that got Dalton. Playing in a Cover 3, cornerback William Gay dropped back, but read Dalton's eyes all the way to the flat and ran in front of wide receiver Jerome Simpson at the Steelers 19 with 2:27 left. It was the second of two fourth-quarter picks that Gay was involved in and dropped Dalton's rating to 61.8.
"If you go watch film, we just all around played some good football," Gay said.
Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu didn't have to see the film to make his call on Dalton.
"He kept them in the game today," he said. "They play good team football. They obviously don't make him throw 40 to 50 times. They play good special teams, play good defense and run the ball. When you do that, you're going to be in every game."
As for Dalton, the Steelers looked likle they did on tape. The magic of Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau didn't get him. But his players did.
"The guy made a great play and jumped the route," Dalton said of Gay. "My eyes were on the flat defender and when I let go of it he jumped it. He made a great play.
"They take chances. They bite on things and try to jump routes. On that play they did and it worked for them."
SLANTS AND SCREENS:The Steelers didn't overwhelm the Bengals with 3.5 yards per carry, but their 105 yards were enough to break the Bengals skein of six games without allowing 100 yards rushing...It was the first time this season the Bengals got blanked in the fourth quarter.