The Thursday Night preview between the Bengals and Dolphins on Halloween was heavy with Geno Atkins stories, analysis and pure man-love for a humble defensive tackle that literally changes things by his mere presence. He didn't disappoint. On Miami's fourth play from scrimmage, Atkins slipped by guard Richie Incognito for a quarterback sack. Two plays later, the Dolphins punted.
Midway through the second quarter, Cincinnati was leading 3-0 in this defensive extravaganza. With 4:45 remaining, LaMar Miller took a handoff and bounced to the left where Wallace Gilberry dropped the running back for a limited three-yard gain.
Everyone got up, returning to the respective huddles... except for Geno. He was laying on his stomach, realizing that something had happened. But what? He was confused. We initiated freak-out mode (we do that a lot). This isn't right. Geno Atkins. No. We can't lose him. Not for a single play. We love him. He's our guy.
The NFL Network went to commercial, creating the longest commercial break in the history of television. Jermaine Gresham and Alex Smith came on the field. Both players hooked their arms underneath Atkins' arm, helping him to the sidelines. Trainers looked momentarily. They were more familiar with such injuries than Atkins, who doesn't break. Doesn't hurt. Atkins doesn't feel pain, he delivers it.
The game went sour. Ryan Tannehill ran for a touchdown several plays later, giving Miami a 7-3 lead with 2:40 remaining in the first half. I didn't care. My attention was maxed out on Atkins. Maybe it's just an MCL sprain, or a twisted ankle. Take a couple of weeks off. Come back.
Eventually the ol' phrase, "you can't worry about what you can't control" drop-kicked me out of my haunted preoccupation, only to watch Andy Dalton take a quarterback sack in overtime to lose the game.
Trick or MF'ing treat.
In hindsight, the loss of Atkins was significant, but not paralyzing. Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson and Wallace Gilberry stepped up. The secondary, already having lost Leon Hall for the year, played better as the season continued. It wasn't just a moment of "next man up"; it unified and motivated players. We'd rather have Atkins, but in a way, we became damn proud of this squad for dealing with it.