Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
It's hard not imagine that Cincinnati's Week 14 loss wouldn't have some impact on the players throughout a short week leading to Week 15.
They talked about it all week.
So have we.
Had Terence Newman or Nate Clements intercepted the football in the fourth quarter, the Cincinnati Bengals seal their Week 14 win over the Dallas Cowboys, take a one-game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second Wild Card spot, giving them some minor comfort in the grand postseason scheme. Instead they let a nine-point fourth quarter lead slip away, leaving not only fans mildly frustration for an opportunity lost, but the team as well.
They tried to forget it.
"After the game (against Dallas), nobody went home. Nobody went to dinner. I think we were all up there breaking down film," said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. "We had to go back to work on Philly. We still have everything we want within reach. We don't have any room for error. We have to go out and play well the last three weeks against three great opponents."
"If there's a time to have one, now's definitely a good time. We can get that taste out of our mouth quick, we can get back playing quick, so I think it's good to have a week like this now," Dalton said after the workout. "It just comes down to the preparation. You've got to prepare a lot quicker; you've got to watch a lot more stuff earlier in the week because you're going to be playing a lot sooner. I think that's just what it comes down to, getting ready, make sure everybody physically is better, getting the rest that you need. From there it just comes down to preparation, making sure you know the game plan going in."
But they couldn't.
“We’re inches away from that game being a totally different situation," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said after another Pro Bowl effort against a Pro Bowl rusher in DeMarcus Ware. "It’s tough, it sucks, it hurts. The bottom line is that we’ve got three games left in the season and we still have a chance to control our destiny — win out and give ourselves an opportunity to be in the playoffs. That’s got to be the key goal. We’ve got to store this in, let it eat at us and make people pay for it.”
"It's going to be in the back of my head, it's going to drive me to look everything in and make sure I catch everything." Green said about his drops against Dallas. "I'm not going to get down on myself, but it's definitely going to push me."
The short week helped.
Typically the team watches film on Mondays. Players take Tuesday off while the coaches develop the gameplan for the next opponent. By Wednesday's first practice, the gameplan is implemented. A short week with an upcoming Thursday night provides no Monday or Tuesday. If there's a film session, it's accelerated. No day off to brood about a bad loss to the Cowboys. Instead players and coaches are already implementing a gameplan during walkthroughs on Monday afternoon to prepare for Thursday's game.
Opening the game on defense then exploding with a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, using a combination of turnovers, indirect punt blocks and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the taste quickly dissolved. Sure a horrifying second quarter in which we had wished that the cable went out made things interesting, the Bengals began separating themselves, capitalizing on Philadelphia's fumbling tendencies.
Yet a 13-10 half time deficit was unsettling. Not because they were losing. That happens. Rather that second quarter promoted such a level of futility that hope literally burned away like a fog giving way to a lifting sun.
"We realize what’s at stake," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "So, I think we looked at each other with thirty minutes to go and we were down and we knew we had to go put football plays together. We hurt ourselves with the penalties and the things in the first and into the second quarter both offensively, defensively and so forth. We allowed some third down conversions in the second quarter on defense and we put ourselves at risk."
One could easily point to Leon Hall's third quarter interception. It was a game-saver. No. A season-saving interception.
“It was a good play to kind of turn the game around, get in scoring position," said Lewis. "We went down and scored and that was big. Those are the things you’ve got to do and we have to keep making plays that way.”"I was able to get one today, finally," said Leon Hall. "I dropped a few earlier this year. But it was huge because getting the turnover, getting the ball back to the offense, and then obviously we got a couple more turnovers later really made the difference in the game."
Indeed. The taste isn't bitter anymore.