Refs and Injuries -- honestly, it could be worse.

I was shocked when Brian Simmons was listed as inactive Sunday morning. During the game, the Bengals lost Levi Jones and Tory James. Dexter Jackson and Rashad Jeanty didn't make it either. That means only Madieu Williams, Deltha O'Neal, Landon Johnson and the defensive line were the sole opening kickoff starters unaffected by injury. Sure, the refs made some interesting calls (i.e. horrible) - primarily the Justin Smith and Robert Geathers roughing the passer flags (see below). But this team will do nothing with the rising curse of injuries. Of course, that's no excuse. We were winning until the thirty-five second mark in the fourth quarter. But this team can only have some many casualties before it starts losing the season-long war. However, I don't think it's as bad as most will surely think it is (read Conclusion).

THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Eric Steinbach was named the starting center before Sunday's kickoff with Andrew Whitworth at left guard. Then early in the first half, Levi Jones left the game with an injured knee. Steinbach briefly went to left tackle with Eric Ghiaciuc at center; Steinbach and Andrew Whitworth swapped positions a bit later. There's concern on the Levi Jones front as he will undergo an MRI Monday morning and could miss significant time.

LINEBACKERS
Brian Simmons woke up Sunday morning with a "neck problem". Ahmad Brooks was declared the starting middle linebacker after Simmons was placed on the inactive list. Brooks finished with an impressive 11 tackles for his first career start with limited NFL experience. David Pollack and Odell Thurman are out for the season putting Caleb Miller and Landon Johnson on Brooks' flank. It's so bad at linebacker right now that John Busing was activated to help Andre Frazier and Marcus Wilkins as the only available backups.

THE MISSING STARS
Let's go down the list of players out Sunday - not including those out for the season or on the PUP list.
Chris Henry
Tab Perry
Anthony Wright
Dexter Jackson
A.J. Nicholson
Brian Simmons
Rich Braham
Rashad Jeanty
Levi Jones
Tory James

This team is hurt - badly. There's no other way to explain it.

WHAT'S A SACK?
I won't rip the referees for interpreting the rules the way they do. It's a thankless job and their only reward is silence. Perhaps future consideration should be an official or two off the field monitoring and correcting calls made on the field. But I will rip the NFL for making this a skirt league with quarterbacks. Robert Geathers was called for roughing the passer putting Tampa Bay inside the Bengals' 10-yard line. The explanation is that he "extended his arms".  The Buccaneers scored a touchdown three plays later.

But the bigger controversy was Justin Smith's roughing the passer. Smith wrapped up Bruce Gradkowski, who lowered his head, hitting the ground with the top of his helmet. Gradkowski lost the ball and I put my arms up thinking this game was over. But since Smith tried to tackle the quarterback - which is illegal - the Bengals were penalized 15 yards; Tampa Bay scored the winning touchdown a few plays later.

I understand the idea of protecting helpless children, women and quarterbacks. Let's be honest though, hard knocks are what injures quarterbacks; not being rolled onto your head or the extension of arms. A cornerback, safety or linebacker, with a full head of steam, will devastate a Quarterback's body (Google the Ohio State Buckeyes and Drew Stanton... or Chris Simms). It took until this off-season to make a rule that defensive players couldn't shred the knee of a quarterback. Smith's sack was minimal in scope to the health of the quarterback but monumental in scope to the game.

I promise you, there will be an age that if you drop the quarterback at all, it will be considered illegal. Maybe not in the next five years, but some dope quarterback will be tackled legally breaking something forcing Roger Goodell's office, the owners and the competition committee to put a stop to the horrible treatment of Quarterbacks. Let's be honest though. It's not about the Quarterback's health; rather the owner's investment in the team's quarterback that initiates the discussion. Is that why you cheer the NFL?

INSTANT REPLAY
The NFL has to get with the times. To force a team to use a challenge and risk a vital timeout because the referees screwed up the call is preposterous. If the refs screwed up the call they should given a chance to right a wrong call - on their own. The idea of giving the ref unmonitored power (see above) to win or lose a game isn't what I would call fair competition. As much as we rip college football for not having a playoff, they run circles around the NFL in most aspects (replay, overtime, etc.)

Why don't the owners and competition committee entertain the rule instituted by college football? I know I'm beating the drum on this one. If refs can't get the call right, or use sound judgment because of a saturated rule book, it's embarrassing to the league and minimizes the impact of the players in the game.

After watching Sunday's game, the NFL should add personal fouls into the list of what can be reviewed. Why? One personal foul can change the entire complexion of the game. When you call a personal foul, you're freely giving the other team 15 yards and an automatic first down. It's obvious to all of us that the NFL rulebook is larger than the refs can handle. It's no wonder the referees are constantly in the crosshairs of fans and critics. Give the refs a chance to correct their own errors is all I'm asking.

DRIVING
The Bengals offense ran three plays and punted on five of their 12 drives. The Bengals crossed the 50-yard line five times and reached the Red-Zone only once (field goal).

WHO NEEDS TIME OF POSSESSION?
The Bengals were horrible with time of possession; only controlled 24:03 of the game. Not only did they lose the time of possession for the game, the Bengals didn't even win a quarter (5:15, 7:15, 6:44, and 5:39).

INCOMPETENCE ON THIRD DOWN CONTINUES
Again, the Bengals offense fails miserably on third down (3-14). There was a fumbled snap and passes batted at the line. In all, Palmer completed six of 11 third down attempts for 44 yards converting two first downs. The average distance to convert on third was 8.4 yards. Palmer threw to Chad three times (caught one), T.J. Houshmandzadeh four times (caught two) and Kenny Watson twice (caught both).

RUDI J. VS. GEATHERS
Rudi Johnson ran 17 times for 52 yards. Robert Geathers was penalized for two personal fouls and an off-side. Rudi gained only 17 yards more than Geathers was penalized.

CHAD AND TJ BACK ON TRACK
Combined, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh gained 201 yards on 16 receptions. After that, Watson gained 18, Chatman gained 13, Reggie Kelly gained 27 and Jeremi Johnson picked up a yard. If there was a time when we could use that #3 receiver, it would be now. Thankfully, we should see Chris Perry next week and Chris Henry the week after next.

RUDI J., AGAIN, PLAYS LIMITED ROLE
In the first half, Rudi Johnson was completely irrelevant having rushed for three yards on seven tries. His third quarter remarkably improved with 43 yards on six rushes. In the fourth, Rudi rushed for gains of four, zero, one and one. I know the offensive coordinator tends to call lopsided games and I know the Bengals line has been suspect. I know it takes Rudi a bit before he gets rolling. But I've been somewhat disappointed in Rudi's season so far. He still plays hard, strong and tough, but he's not getting the results.

JOSEPH SHOULD BE STARTING... NOW
Johnathon Joseph is really impressing me. He's becoming a sure tackler in the open field challenging Madieu Williams as the best tackler in the secondary. He nearly had a pick but that pesky hot potato just ricocheted off his chest. Great game by the rookie cornerback. Did he finally earn a starting spot? I say yes.

WHAT THE GRAHAM
Even Shayne Graham doesn't have a chance on a 62-yard field goal attempt. However, it wasn't the long field goal attempt that sealed the Bengals loss. It was two plays before that. On second and 10, at the Cincinnati 47-yard line, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin called blitz. In a way, the call was surprising because the Bengals were about a 20-yard pass play away from entering Graham's field goal range. And that's about the time most teams call prevent-like defenses - keep everything in front of you. Not the legendary Monte. At the snap, Palmer dropped back with the surge of Tampa Bay defenders quickly buckling the offensive line. He tried to get it rid of early but was sacked after his pump fake.

Head coach Marvin Lewis said the field goal attempt was the best option to get points - which translates to "we had no chance". Nice.

CONCLUDING...
I truly feel this team is struggling because of injures we've accumulated. It started in pre-season and transferred through week six. Other than Pollack and Thurman, no player is expected out longer than a "couple of weeks". And realistically, no one in the AFC North has taken charge of the division. The Bengals today are in the same position as they were Saturday. So in a sense, with the injury and the struggles from other North teams, it could have been worse.

Also consider, we're playing non conference games. Which means Cincinnati is O.K. at the moment to lose games. These games, in the big tie-breaking picture, don't come into play unless you tie for the division and have the same division record. Even then, it's counted as "common opponents"; not "Record against NFC". If we lose games in the division or conference, then it could prove terminal in the quest for the playoffs. But as it is, the NFC losses only apply to games with common opponents. So if you need any positive to come from Sunday's loss, take that. Because there's no much else sunshine left. There's a cold front with day-long rain storms coming through and we have no jackets!

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