It was a celebration in Cincinnati on Thursday.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict was cleared to practice and Andy Dalton was announced as the offensive player of the month in October. Not even Mike Tyson's furious combination and jolting uppercut could dissuade crisp enthusiasm for Bengals fans.
Burfict, who played his final game of the 2014 season against Baltimore on October 26 was ceremoniously cleared to practice on Thursday. Gloriously, it was his first practice after a relatively minor scoping procedure led to dreadful microfracture surgery; that wiped out his training camp, preseason and the first six weeks of the regular season.
"I did everything today," Burfict said via the Cincinnati Enquirer (you can read their full story here). "Just go every day by day and continue to do rehab and make sure my knee is able to perform later on down in Week 17."
Is he ready?
Despite being a radically expressive and confident young man, Burfict wants to temper expectations. "I'm not quite 100 [percent] yet, but I'm just taking those steps trying to get there," he said after practice, adding that if the Bengals were in the Super Bowl "I'm playing."
Linebacker Vincent Rey confidently boasted that he "looked like himself to me", going so far as to speculate that Burfict will play on Sunday.
"I think he will,' Rey said. "I'm still ready to play how many snaps they need me. I'm hoping he plays so we can all play some snaps. At the end of the day it's getting to 7-0. That's the main goal."
Burfict hasn't played since Oct. 26, 2014 and underwent his first practice in over a calendar year. Despite the energy that Burfict brings to Cincinnati's defensive huddle, expecting an accelerated conditioning program and adjustment in Paul Guenther's defense might be a bit much.
"It's like coming into training camp," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said via ESPN. "You're not going to be in football shape right away, so you can't play a whole bunch of snaps right away. We'll have to ease him into it when he gets back."
Yet, he's close.
Per league rules, a deadline exists requiring decisions to be made. If Cincinnati wasn't comfortable with his progress, they had six weeks after eligibility to make a decision on Burfict. Yet, he practiced on Thursday, enforcing a three-week window before the Bengals have to make a long-term decision (keep on PUP, waive or activate to the 53-man roster).
Ready for Pittsburgh? Debatable.
"If we feel like he's ready to play, then he'll be able to go right away," Guenther said. "We just have to go through the rest of the week and find out.
As for Dalton, the accolades are mounting.
The NFL announced their players of the month on Thursday, handing Dalton the offensive player of the month award. A look at October:
- Dalton led the NFL with a 111.6 passer rating and posted 895 passing yards with seven total touchdowns (six passing, one rushing) as he led the Bengals to a 3-0 record in October.
- In Week 4, Dalton passed for 321 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions for a 127.1 passer rating in the Bengals' 36-21 win against Kansas City.
- He engineered a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback in a 27-24 overtime win against Seattle in Week 5, passing for 331 yards and contributing three total touchdowns against the Seahawks (two passing, one rushing).
- To cap off the month, he passed for 243 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 118.6 passer rating in a 34-21 win at Buffalo in Week 6 to preserve Cincinnati's undefeated record.
- Dalton has led the Bengals to their third 6-0 record in franchise history (1975, 1988) and is the NFL's leading passer this season with a 116.1 rating.
- In his fifth season out of Texas Christian, this is Dalton's second career Player of the Month Award and first since October of 2013. He is the only player in Bengals history to win multiple Player of Month Awards.
Dalton, perhaps possessing one of the finest characters a player could exhibit, immediately deflected the achievement.
"It shows what this team is able to do," Dalton said via ESPN, adding he'd prefer to split the award with his teammates. "Yeah, I was the one who won it, but it was because of these other guys here who made plays, scored touchdowns. All the different stuff that they've done. The [offensive] line has been unbelievable."
Dalton is having an MVP-caliber season, reaching achievements and milestones that no Bengals quarterback in franchise history, such as the beloved Kenny Anderson, Boomer Esiason and Carson Palmer (...crickets...), has ever accomplished.