Dolphins head coach Brian Flores is as coy with his quarterbacks as Bengals head coach Zac Taylor is with his offensive line and it looks like both are going to be announced the day of the game Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in Miami.
Even though rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa went limited again in practice Thursday with last week's thumb injury. If he's not ready, that means 38-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick makes his fifth start against one of his old teams, the Bengals club he says did more than any to get that foothold in the league that is now a 16-year footprint.
While Andy Dalton led the Bengals to five playoff appearances in the previous decade and Carson Palmer led the Bengals to an AFC North sweep in the decade before that, Fitzpatrick may have been the Bengals quarterback with the most impact in this century.
The last time we saw Fitzmagic was nearly a year to the day he and Andy Dalton turned a drab Christmas week game between two teams about to draft their new franchise quarterbacks into a historic overtime shootout that gave the Bengals Joe Burrow.
While Dalton became the first quarterback in history to engineer 16 points in the last 33 seconds of regulation, Fitzpatrick prevailed in the OT with 419 yards and four touchdown passes in the Dolphins win that gave the Bengals the overall No. 1 pick.
The man with the Harvard brain, Berkeley beard and Goodyear arm, is still at it. Last week he hit nine receivers for 267 yards to beat the Jets (another one of his old teams) and the man has five 300-yard games in his last nine starts.
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said after practice Thursday that it's not ideal preparing for two different quarterbacks. The good thing is that he not only faced Fitzpatrick last year, but also when Fitzpatrick was teamed with Chan Gailey in Buffalo and the Jets. Gailey is now with him in Miami.
"The good news is that there are a lot of similarities with what they do with both Fitz and Tua," Anarumo said. "I don't know this, but it appears on tape that Fitz would have maybe more leverage to change things or get them into another play. Not that Tua doesn't check or anything like that. That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying Fitz and Chan were together back with the Jets, they were together at Buffalo. There are a lot of similarities to what they do, that's the good news for us. But I just think when Fitz is out there, the whole book is open and he can get to maybe a play they ran 10 years ago together that Tua hasn't quite gotten there yet."
If Fitzpatrick gets Sunday's nod it marks the 13th time one of the Bengals former starting quarterbacks starts against Cincinnati. Fitzpatrick is looking for his third win against the Bengals, tying him with 3-0 Jeff Blake. Blake beat Jon Kitna all three times while Fitzpatrick looks to add Brandon Allen to the list with Dalton (last year) and Palmer (for the Bills in 2010).
"He knows who his playmakers are and he's going to get the ball to those guys," Anarumo said. "They may seem covered to other people, but he doesn't believe that they are and he's going to try to fit the ball into what he says are his guys. He did the same thing all the way back when I was with the Dolphins (and he was with Buffalo) and they had Stevie Johnson as wideout and Brandon Marshall with the Jets he gets the ball to the playmakers. He's able to make plays and he's lasted in this league for a long time, because he's smart, he stays healthy and he's got great command of the whole team. He's a special guy. I have great respect for him."
BATES PRO BOWLING: Flores has a lot of regard for Bengals free safety Jessie Bates III. When Flores' remarks were relayed to Bates in Thursday's media Zoom, he said he'd make sure he'd pay his respects to Flores before the game.
That's just more evidence of the respect Bates is piling up in his third season in the league and he hopes it results in his first Pro Bowl berth.
"Throughout high school, you want to be all-state. You go to college, you want to be an All-American. You want to be All-ACC, which is the best conference in college football," said Bates, proud Wake Forest product. "And then you go to the NFL, you want to be a Pro Bowler. And then you once get to Pro Bowl, you start thinking Hall of Fame. For me, it's all about winning. I think that stuff comes with as you're playing good ball.
"It's very important. I think it's really cool because you think about all the names, all the Pro Bowl names and all the All-Pro guys. That name holds some weight. It's something that I've always dreamed of and I'm going to continue to work toward that."
Anarumo, who mentored a Pro Bowl safety while coaching the Dolphins secondary in Reshad Jones, thinks Bates is going to the next level because he's understanding offense as much as defense.
"I just think the game is starting to slow down for him. He sees things, whether it be a formation, or an alert, or know where his help is going to be, or where he needs to help quicker," Anarumo said. "All those things are now going through his mind. As opposed to, 'Where do I line up, what's my assignment and what am I looking at first?'
"He can now take the next progression. To any good defensive player, don't worry about what your job is. Now you're starting to process what the offense can do to you. Once you get to that level and you're a talented player, the result is kind of the season that he's having."
LOU'S LINEBACKERS: Anarumo likes how his young linebackers are evolving. He says sophomore run stopper Germaine Pratt is holding up and has come through as advertised as a student of the game.
"He gets high at times. He doesn't get as low as we would like him at times on blocks and he gets his body in weird positions at times," Anarumo said. "But he sees it really well. He's done a really good job at communicating, he knows where his help is coming from and where he needs to be, so his fits are markedly improved from last year.
"Last year was A, B and C, ok I'm in the A-gap. This year he's calling out 'watch the power' or 'watch the trap' or 'watch the toss.' He's way ahead of it because he puts the time and effort into it and takes pride in it. He's done a solid job for us … Germaine is silently having a good year."
And he says the rookie patrolling the pass in the nickel, Logan Wilson, is on the uptick.
"I thought all the linebackers played well last week," Anarumo said. "Josh Bynes was all over the place and Logan continues to progress. We'll continue to work with Akeem (Davis-Gaither) and (Markus) Bailey as we get through the end of the year here."
INJURY UPDATE: Kevin Huber is punting in his 186th game Sunday, but could it be long snapper Dan Godsil's first? Clark Harris missed practice for the second straight day with an illness. So did starting defensive tackle Christian Covington (illness) and right guard Alex Redmond (concussion). Special teams ace Brandon Wilson (hamstring) also missed his second straight day as did gunner Tony Brown (hamstring).
Wilson and Brown are two of their top punt cover guys and they need them because Miami's Jakeem Grant leads the league with nearly 14 yards per punt return. The Bengals' own punt returner, wide receiver Alex Erickson, was pressed into gunner service last Sunday. The problem is, with Auden Tate going on injured reserve, the Bengals are down to five wide receivers and one of them, Mike Thomas (hamstring), has missed the last two games and was limited Thursday.
Just another example why special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons is highly respected. He's got to figure out stuff like that every week.