Wide receiver A.J. Green, their best player, could be the 15th Bengal to go injured reserve after he undergoes tests Monday for his turf toe that knocked him out of Sunday's 24-10 loss to the Broncos with 11:38 left in the second quarter. The Bengals may end up looking at the injury that kept him out of the three previous games like the partially torn hamstring that took him out of essentially the last seven games of the 2016 season. If there's a chance he can make it worse, that's not what their looking to do.
Green took two steps before he grabbed at the toe in severe enough pain he went down in a heap. He was barely able to limp back to the Paul Brown Stadium bench and while he sat there he fired his helmet to the ground in one of the biggest displays of anger by the impassive super star. Probably right there with the Jalen Ramsey implosion of 2017. It hurt his teammates as much because they knew he was playing hurt.
"We knew he wasn't healthy. But he had confidence he could tough it out," said left end Carlos Dunlap.
When Green got on the cart and covered his face with hands, well, it seemed like already it was game, set, match.
"When a guy says he really wants to win, he really wants to win," said wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who again led the offense with six catches for 97 yards. "He'll do whatever it takes to get out there and make plays whenever possible
"He's a dog. A lot of us were worried about him," Boyd said of the crowd around Green at halftime. "We were asking him how he felt and he said he was good, he was feeling great, ready to go. I know that guy wants to leave it all out there for each and every one of us."
Tight end C.J. Uzomah said they didn't dwell on the injury and wide receiver Cody Core was greeted in the huddle as business went on.
"He calls me 'Warrior,' and I think he's the toughest guy on our team," Uzomah said. "He fights through everything … He's a leader on our team. A captain. It's tough to see No. 18 go down."
What seems clear is that for the first time in the eight seasons of the Green-Dalton Era they'll start a game next week in Los Angeles without Green and quarterback Andy Dalton in a city where they haven't won since Oct. 7, 1990 in a game Boomer Esiason threw for a Bengals-record 490 yards and Jim Breech won with an overtime field goal.
FLAG DAY: The last two games have been two of the most nine penalized games in the 16 seasons of head coach Marvin Lewis. After committing 13 penalties last week, they went for 12 on Sunday with the offensive line taking the brunt of it with half the penalties. It's the first time in the 252 games Lewis has coached they've had at least a dozen penalties in back-to-back games and they came in home games. Right tackle Bobby Hart, working against future Hall-of-Fame pass rusher Von Miller, had a false start early and he said he went to the officials to argue he was timing up Miller's quick move off the ball.
"Later on I got more used to that," Hart said.
Trey Hopkins, making his first start at left guard, was lined up next to Clint Boling, making his third NFL start at left tackle and both were in front of quarterback Jeff Driskel making his first NFL start. Hopkins, who had a hold on the first snap of the second half as well as a false start, made no excuses.
"There are a lot of moving parts. We still know what to do," Hopkins said. "And we know what's required of us and we have to do it better … The alignment doesn't matter. You've still played football."
SLANTS AND SCREENS:
_They may not have middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict, either, next week. He left with a concussion …
Or cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. He left with his left foot in a boot after he hurt it early in the second half and then came back. He was on the field for running back Phillip Lindsay's 65-yard touchdown run and shouldn't have been because he was limping …
_Wide receiver Alex Erickson may have vaulted into the NFL's top five in punt returns pending other outcomes, but he fumbled for the first time this year and lost just his third fumble in 44 games in a key spot. At his own 33 in a 7-3 game early in the second half. Two snaps later it was 14-3. The tricky wind, in the teens, hampered the kickers. Broncos kicker Brandon McManus missed a 50-yarder and Bengals punter Kevin Huber managed just a 39.6-yard net even though he drilled one 69 yards. But the wind also seemed to affect Erickson when he dropped the punt for the fumble as he ran up to catch it and he let another punt hit and roll when he should have caught it.
"It was cutting against the wind. He didn't hit it clean and it was going the opposite way," Erickson said of the drop. "I was just running it up and it hit my arm. It's going to eat at me until next Sunday, that's for sure." …
_Broncos head coach Vance Joseph was Bengals safety Shawn Williams' position coach for two years. When Williams tried to separate wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from the ball on the Broncos sideline, Williams was called for unnecessary roughness with the refs ruling it was a helmet-to-helmet hit. Joseph was talking with Williams right away and Williams said he told him, "You've got to be smarter, you've got to be smarter."
After he saw the replay he said, 'Oh, I'm sorry. You're good, you're good,'" Williams said. "I hit him with the shoulder. I guess initially it looks like that, but the replay shows it was the shoulder."
The Bengals have now lost four straight overall and three straight at home. The only other time they did that in the Green-Dalton Era was in 2012 in a 31-23 PBS loss to Denver. The last time they lost five straight and four straight at PBS was 2010 ...
_Tough one for the Bengals to give up another big rushing game with with the Big Uso on the other side. Rookie running back Phillip Lindsay became the fourth 100-yard rusher the Bengals have allowed in four games and the sixth this season. They've now allowed 1,840 rushing yards with four games left. In the 10 seasons Broncos nose tackle Domata Peko started for the Bengals, they allowed fewer than 1,840 rushing yards in a season six times.
"I felt great, man. I kind of felt like that I, I don't know, like I left here too soon," Peko said after the game. "I felt like I had more to give. I had more to give this city and to my old team, but it's just the way the game goes, and the way the business goes. No one's ever going to be on one team for their whole career, unless you're someone special. That hardly happens, because even Peyton Manning had to leave Indy. It felt really good to get the love from the fans. Being here for 11 seasons man, I was always raising up the fans, and getting them hyped, and getting them proud, and just to hear that they still love me here felt really good." ...
The Bengals take on the Denver Broncos in week 13. Images from Paul Brown Stadium.