When the Bengals start preparing Wednesday for Sunday's Wild Card Game in Indianapolis (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12), they hope they'll have the services of wide receiver A.J. Green after he left last Sunday night's game under the concussion protocol.
What we do know is they are scheduled to work all three days inside the University of Cincinnati bubble in preparation for an indoor game at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Bengals seek their first win in Indy since a Boomer Esiason relief victory in 1997 and their first post-season road win ever. SP TEAMS CHASE:Antonio Brown's 71-yard punt return touchdown In Pittsburgh Sunday night cost the Bengals in more ways than one.
After leading the NFL for much of the season in a compilation of the league rankings in the 10 major kicking categories, the Bengals lost the special teams crown by a point to the Falcons, 96-97. Rounding out the top five were the Patriots (101), Rams (104), and Eagles (108).
The Bengals came into the weekend ranked second in allowing punt return average and they were second in net punt average, helping their rankings add up to 84, of all things, Brown's jersey number. That will happen when the longest return they allowed was 11 yards. But after they gave up Brown's third punt return TD against them since 2011, they finished 10th in punt return average against and sixth in net punt average against.
One of their starting gunners was having an immense year covering punts but Dre Kirkpatrick wasn't on the field for the return, since he was starting at cornerback for the ill Terence Newman. Backup cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris, playing in his fourth game of the season, lined up in Kirkpatrick's spot, a job Lewis-Harris has done well in the past.
But no one looked good when the other gunner, cornerback Darqueze Dennard, couldn't wrap up Brown and when he spun out of Dennard's grasp Brown totally reversed field and there was no one on the other side.
Kirkpatrick played well for Newman even if he did give up the killer, the 63-yard touchdown to Brown on third-and-eight with 2:50 left in the game. Kirkpatrick left no doubt he thought Brown interfered with him along the right sideline, where Kirkpatrick stumbled as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger lofted it vertically in front of Brown instead of on Brown's back shoulder, as if the two had ESP.
"He was in pretty good position; the ball ended up on the other side. That happens. That's one for them," said head coach Marvin Lewis on Monday.
Kirkpatrick agreed. He tempered his remarks by saying he had no excuses. In a classic case of NFL cornerbacking, he went from AFC Defensive Player of the Week with two picks of Peyton Manning in the final 2:41 last Monday night to getting beat big with 2:50 left Sunday.
"You have to have a short memory. You just have to dust off the cobwebs and go out there and do it all over next week," Kirkpatrick said. "I felt I was in great position. The guy was looking back and that's one of your jobs. Turn to your man, but as everyone failed to realize he tugged and pulled me down. But that didn't get called.
"You can't make excuses. Antonio Brown is a great receiver. I told him that and I tip my hat to him, I told him it was an honor to be out there playing against him. But we have to make that play… It looked like he could react to it more than I could because by the time I made contact with him, his eyes were at the quarterback. A great play and great read by the quarterback."
FULL NELSON: Some Bengals were apparently surprised when Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin screamed at them to get back as they came over to check out injured Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell in the third quarter. Safety Reggie Nelson made a good, tough tackle on Bell that even Tomlin said was legal, but it may leave Bell out of Saturday's game against Baltimore with a knee injury.
Nelson and Tomlin had words after the game, but it apparently wasn't about the tackle.
"Everybody who knows Reggie Nelson knows Reggie Nelson. It just seemed more than what it was, but it's not. I have nothing but respect for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and that's it," Nelson said Monday. "There really wasn't a situation. I just asked a question and that was pretty much it. That's the end of that. I have nothing but respect for Coach Tomlin. The Steelers have a great organization over there and a great head coach, and I just wish them the best in the postseason."
To be fair to Tomlin, he said the same thing about Nelson after the game.
-Rookie running back Jeremy Hill's 100-yarder marked the Bengals' first 100-yard rushing game in 10 years against the Steelers, since Rudi Johnson went for 123 yards in an Oct. 3, 2004 loss at Heinz Field in the first game Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau called against the team he head coached for 45 games
-The Bengals finished with 2,147 rushing yards this year, their most in the 12 seasons under Marvin Lewis and the most since the 2, 314 of 2000, when LeBeau was the head coach…
-Their 19 rushing TDs were their most under Lewis and most since 1997, when Corey Dillon and Ki-Jana Carter combined for 17 of them…
-With four West Coast games in 2015, Lewis is looking at logging his most miles in his 13 seasons as head coach when they go to Denver, Oakland, Arizona and San Francisco. The one break is that the 49ers and the Raiders figure to have new coaching staffs. They also go to Buffalo as well as the AFC North. Seattle and St. Louis come east, as do the Chiefs, Chargers, Texans, and the AFC North.
-Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, a former NFL head coach who came within six minutes of getting the hapless Raiders to the playoffs in 2011 (think about that and where Oakland is now), figures to attract interest for another shot. But he said Monday he's so wrapped up in the Colts he wouldn't know if a team had contacted him.
"Honestly, I don't know and I wouldn't want to know right this second," Jackson said. "I'm tired, I'm getting over last night, a cold and need to go find way to compete against these guys.
"I've got nothing but the Colts on my mind. If somebody did, my goal is we've got a big game this week. That's all I can be concerned about."