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OK, so what's next?

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Let's quickly recap from the off-season to this moment in the regular season. Chris Henry, Eric Steinbach, Mathias Askew, Frostee Rucker, Odell Thurman and A.J. Nicholson have all been arrested. Askew was cut early and Thurman is in the middle of a full season suspension. Henry was inactive Sunday, an obvious public relations move, and could find a lengthy suspension once the self-proclaimed tight fisted commissioner makes his judgment.

When people say a player's actions off the field doesn't hurt the team on the field, just remind them our starting middle linebacker and 2005 leading tackler is out for the entire season. Remind them that the NFL's best number-three receiver in the league was forced to sit out because of allegations he was in the backseat tossing cookies out the window.

But we all know this, right? Toss out the "character" talk and let's continue.

Chris Perry, leaning on bad medical advice, goes outside the organization to discover his injury will require surgery and some PUP time. David Pollack injures his neck and is out for the season. Rich Braham, Tab Perry and Dexter Jackson suffered injuries against Cleveland and have remained MIA since. It's rumored that Braham could be out for the season with a broken leg or foot.

Losing these guys put the Bengals defense back a full season - with Sam Adams - and the offense has gone from excitement to sluggish.

Before Braham got hurt, Carson Palmer was sacked one time. Palmer has been sacked 14 times since. Last season, Palmer was sacked, on average, less then one time per game.

Let's compare other numbers. Rudi Johnson, in 2005, ran on 75% of all running plays. With no quality back to contribute now, Rudi has upped that to 81%. Running backs, last season, caught 17% of Palmers attempts; this season it's only 10%. Last season, the Bengals had a 1:43 advantage in time of possession; this year Bengals opponents have nearly a three minute advantage. Last season the Bengals converted 43% of their third downs; this season, they've only converted 35%.  I know most of these decreases can't be attributed to one man, but Chris Perry was a major part of this offense and contributed a lot.

I'm not here to point out the Bengals are making mistakes or anything close to that; just that injury and DUIs have put us in this position.

OK, WE KNOW THIS. SO WHAT'S NEXT?
I don't believe Rudi's "we're not as good as we thought" or Carson's "we deserve this" really deserves merit. The Bengals are this good, if healthy. The Bengals didn't deserve anything; contrary to clown writers thinking this is some kind of "karma". In fact, the belief by Rudi and Carson that they could win missing a lot of big-time players is awesome. It shows leadership and character. The next step, after believing you can win with this much adversity, is going out and doing it. But we're still young and this Broadway show has plenty of time to mix up a brilliant tune.

Realistically, what needs to happen is for players to get healthy and other guys to step up. After the bye week, the Bengals will play Tampa Bay, Carolina, Atlanta, Baltimore and San Diego; all formidable defenses with quality running games. The entire offensive line - not just Eric Ghiaciuc - must step up to protect Palmer. Bob Bratkowski has to show more resolve sticking to the running game. Madieu Williams, while playing great so far, needs to raise another level and support Kevin Kaesviharn while Dexter Jackson recovers. Caleb Miller, Ahmad Brooks and Rashad Jeanty must crush their audition to make this rush defense better. Robert Geathers, Bryan Robinson and Justin Smith have to do better rushing the quarterback than they did Sunday. Otherwise, the pass defense will be shredded, again.  

As for fans, we need to relax a little. This was bound to happen. The injury bug bit us in pre-season and got more contagious as the regular season crossed the quarter mark. This happens to nearly every team. Will they rebound from this? If you want to find the question on how champions rise, the next month or two will obviously answer your question.