Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is vowing to fix his defense. Vontaze Burfict wants to play oh so badly Sunday when the Panthers come to Paul Brown Stadium for a 1 p.m. game. He became good friends with Carolina middle linebacker Luke Kuechly at last year's Pro Bowl and there's no way he'd want to miss a showdown between two of the NFL's best young linebackers.
All signs are pointing to Burfict coming back and the Bengals want him back just as badly. Especially after their defense looked so unsettled and unkempt in Sunday night's messy 43-17 loss to the Patriots in which they gave up their most yards (505) in seven years.
And not because ProFootballFocus.com gave the Bengals linebackers a frighteningly low grade. PFF noted that on 15 targets Vincent Rey, Emmanuel Lamur and Rey Maualuga allowed 11 catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns while giving up 209 yards in short and intermediate passing.
No, it's not just because of that they miss Burfict. It is because he is their microchip; the guy that gets them lined up and talks to defensive coordinator Paul Guenther between snaps in the radio helmet, the X and O savant.
"He's our quarterback, yes, absolutely,' Guenther said Monday. "We had guys in there. Guys we had around there should know what they are doing. Certainly when you don't have a guy like that in these types of games it's valuable to have those kinds of guys."
In just his fifth NFL start, Lamur had the defensive headset, which shows you how much confidence they have in such a talented young player. He first had it against Tennessee back on Sept. 21 and nearly quarterbacked the first home shutout in 34 years in the 33-7 victory over the Titans.
But Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is something else. Certainly not Jake Locker. Tom Brady in a no huddle is something else again. With Burfict sidelined with a concussion for the second straight game, there was uncharacteristic hesitancy and lack of communication that allowed Brady to pass for nearly 300 yards and keep the ball for nearly 39 minutes with a rushing attack that gobbled up 220 yards in a mass of missed tackles and misalignments.
This was a different kind of game than the previous three. Compared to those, Guenther hardly blitzed. With the Patriots max protecting and using two tight ends and two backs, there weren't the favorable matchups of the previous month.
"I think they were a little bit up-tempo. We had some things ready for that. I don't think we handled it as good as we should have," Guenther said. "Some of that probably we could have given them more in practice but they were up on the ball a lot. So we had some automatic calls we wanted to get to and we didn't handle it like we should have. "
Yet, like Guenther, safety George Iloka believes getting people lined up wasn't the problem.
"They did a good job of getting us the play calls. (Burfict) is a great player and obviously we're better with him, but lining up, we just have to communicate," Iloka said. "At the beginning of the year, Rey Maualuga and E-man did a good job of getting us the call and getting everybody lined up. Where was all this talk the first three games? Obviously we would love to have him back. I think he'll be back this week. I'm not sure. He's one of the key pieces to our defense. But in terms in getting lined up, anybody can control that. There's a lot of vets out there. There's no rookies out there. We've got to correct that."
Still, no was immune from the carnage on a defense that had so looked in the first three games.
Take Brady's first touchdown pass of the night to tight end Tim Wright, a 17-yarder where Wright went sailing alone down the seam because of a blown coverage. The tight ends romped with Wright's first big game as a Patriot (85) yards and another 100-yard day for Rob Gronkowski.
"It was a number of guys depending on the coverage," Guenther said. "We weren't exact in things we need to be exact on, quite frankly. It was one of those days we had an off night. That's all I can tell you is we had an off night, I'm responsible for it and we'll get it fixed. I told them if things go bad, it's Tom Brady he's going to make some plays on you it's how we respond and we didn't respond how we should."
Take the real killer, 3rd-and-16 with 7:28 left in the third quarter and the Bengals inching back into it at 20-10 with the Pats at the Bengals 35 and everyone in all six New England states knowing the Pats were going to run it to get it closer for a field goal. But running back Shane Vereen took the draw play up the middle and cut it back from the congestion to the right. A bad angle allowed Vereen to cut it back up inside and a retreating defensive back turned it into a 19-yard gain that set up a touchdown that jacked it back to 27-10.
On Monday the Bengals were focusing on six runs that accounted for about 100 yards, meaning the other 40 carries went for less than three yards per carry.
"The bottom line is they came out and punched us in the face," Guenther said. "We anticipated that happening and my point to the players is that we had to come out with early energy and we didn't do that. We had to take it to them early, get them thinking this is the same old stuff, and it was just the opposite.
"You take your medicine, you learn your lesson and correct the things you need to correct and move on to the next one. We're on to Carolina."
There was Guenther invoking Patriots head coach Bill Belichick himself. It was Belichick who stoned a news conference last week with several, 'We're on to Cincinnatis," in answer to anything controversial from the blowout loss in Kansas City last Monday night.
That is now the theme for the Bengals. Bounce back like the Pats did.
"I feel we haven't showed up in the big games in terms of prime time or whether the playoffs or whatever," Iloka said, "and we won't have a chance to right that wrong but we have a chance to right this wrong in terms of a loss and winning this week and that's what we need to focus on and work on."
That's the other thing Burfict gives them. Attitude. It's hard to imagine Brady and Gronkowski doing all that woofing with Burfict in the middle of the field. At one point, the Bengals were woofing at each other after big plays and Guenther wants to stop that.
"It's not OK. No, it isn't. It's something I'm talking about right there,' Guenther said. "We are a close unit. There are going to be guys that make mistakes at times, we pick each other up when those things happen. We can't point fingers or do any of that stuff. I think guys understand that."
The theme now is quite Patriotic. Point the finger at the other guy to get out of the funk.