There's a narrative that exists in every game that produces an evolving commentary. After the Cincinnati Bengals secured a 49-9 win over the New York Jets, tickets were punched to Super Bowl 48. After Cincinnati's 22-20 overtime loss in Miami, the season was declared over. While avoiding dramatic premonitions on either side of the extreme scale, the reality is that the truth is buried somewhere in the middle.
Once Cincinnati's loss was over and the post-game stories were written, a feeling of dread set in. Did this really happen? After surviving the Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet and Dick LeBeau era, losses rarely impact my real-life emotions. In the end, it's a game meant to distract from the real issues that impact our daily lives. Yet Thursday's loss wasn't just bad based on the way that they loss; it was Geno Atkins' season-ending ACL tear and the general rediscovery of an offense that's unable to overcome their own mistakes.
Those are the saturating thoughts as the Bengals community fell asleep after the loss.
When the sun was lifting off the horizon, there was false optimism. Cincinnati confirmed that Atkins suffered an ACL injury, but nothing about a tear. Perhaps it's a sprain, like Rey Maualuga's MCL; not that a sprained ACL is comparable, it was the existing thread that argued that there's a chance. Maybe it's false hope providing an optimistic light after Halloween's darkness saturated a sense of despair with so many players falling this year to season-ending injuries.
Despite the severity, Cincinnati's defense has a void to fill. Already short-handed with Devon Still, who Mike Zimmer was have a stern talking to during Hard Knocks, dealing with his own elbow injury that's keep him off the field since week seven, the Bengals will look to free agency.
"You hate to see Geno go down. Two of our best defensive players go down the last three ballgames," Newman said via Bengals.com. "It's tough, but this team has had adversity before. Fight through it. You need the next guy to step up and from what I can see whoever went in there (Brandon Thompson), did a good job. ... You just have to keep your head down and do your job."
Next man up, but there's no man or combination of men that replaces Atkins. Not in Cincinnati, not in the NFL.
When looking at the extremity of reactions over the past two weeks, I don't view Thursday's events as being a season-ender. Cincinnati has overcome too much adversity for me to believe that they'd close shop and call it quits. This group has the intangibles of belief, an ego with enough pride to refuse conceded finality. Even with Atkins out and four turnovers by the offense, Miami still needed help from Cincinnati to beat the Bengals; take away just one of those mistakes, like Jermaine Gresham's mythical offensive hold, and the Bengals win on Marvin Jones' 50-yard touchdown reception.
A.J. Green is in the process of sweet domination and Giovani Bernard sends out a friendly reminder that when he touches the ball, anything is possible. Clean up burdensome mistakes and the weapons surrounding Andy Dalton could have as much of an impact as the defense did at full strength. Talk is cheap though; it has to happen.
But this team isn't done yet.
And neither are you.
Thursday was a punch to the gut, but you're recovering and your lungs are drawing air again. The Bengals have an extended week before they're set for a division game in Baltimore. A win against the Ravens will reset these paths towards a season that we had expected during training camp.
This story isn't written yet.