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For The Cincinnati Bengals, The Test Is Yet To Come

The Bengals have faced some early adversity this year in the form of a daunting schedule and incurred injuries, but the biggest challenges are coming down the pike with the second half of their schedule.

Mike Ehrmann

It's that time of the week where we begin to segue from the previous week's Bengals game and start the reports for the upcoming matchup and in looking ahead to the game with the Ravens and beyond, Cincinnati has their work cut out for them. If you thought that their first part of the schedule would tell us all that we need to know about the 2013 version of Marvin Lewis' creation, you might need to buckle up.

To say that the Bengals experienced a nightmare in Miami in Halloween would be both tongue-in-cheek and an understatement. We have driven home the magnitude of the injury to Geno Atkins and the nervousness that comes with losing an AFC game while in the middle of the playoff hunt, but let's recap the game in a way that should bring some positive vibes:

  1. Depending on how you look at it, Bengals receivers made Andy Dalton's night difficult by dropping anywhere from five to seven passes on the evening. One by Mohamed Sanu directly led to an interception deep in Dolphins territory.
  2. A phantom holding call on Jermaine Gresham negated a Marvin Jones touchdown which not only would have helped the Bengals on the scoreboard, but would also have made Dalton's stats much more respectable.
  3. After Atkins was hurt in the second quarter, the Bengals defense actually let up less yards in the second half than they did in the first with Atkins in the game. Go figure.
  4. Running back Giovani Bernard, who had two touchdowns in the game, left with an injury in the fourth quarter which undoubtedly had an impact on the Bengals offense the rest of the way.
  5. On the late game-tying field goal drive by the Dolphins, Brian Hartline had a questionable catch where he may or may not have had both feet down on a big gain.

All of this, plus the short week where the Bengals had to travel on the road, and the Bengals still took a scrappy Dolphins team deep into overtime on the road. The long-time cynical Bengals fan might respond with "typical", though a more rational and optimistic approach might be to say that the team overcame quite a bit for a near victory.

Cincinnati now plays a struggling Ravens team and is facing a game where they can take a chokehold on the AFC North crown. Second-year defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, who has been thrust into a huge role, is taking the right approach and is attempting not to make things too big for himself. Meanwhile, Thompson's line mate Michael Johnson is one of the Bengals players who realizes how big this game is by claiming that the team is playing in "desperation mode" this week and beyond. Kind of an odd proclamation for a team that has a two-game lead in the division and sits at 6-3, but it actually makes some sense.

"We're going to be playing desperate, too," Johnson interjected, his tone changing slightly from his otherwise comparatively mundane responses. "Every game from here on out, in my eyes, is a desperation game," Johnson said. "I'm going to play like that." Because we just lost," Johnson said. "We just lost on a safety in overtime on the road to a team that we should have beat. We've got too much talent on this team to have those lulls like we had. We're going to be back. We're going to bounce back and we're going to be all right."

"Once I watch the film and make my corrections, it's behind me," Johnson said late Monday of any game he loses. "I didn't watch the film until [Monday], so I'm feeling a little better now, knowing where we can be better and knowing where we're going to get better."

Though Cincinnati doesn't play some of the NFL juggernauts that they did through the first nine games, the second half of the season could be even tougher for them. The injuries are piling up and they can smell the postseason. The sad truth is that we have seen similar Bengals squads wilt under similar circumstances.

It's how they respond to the injuries and an ugly loss that will show what this team is truly made of. If they can clean up the mistakes and show that they do indeed have the depth that has been spoken about ad nauseum all year long, confidence will be high that a deep postseason run can be made. Some more good news is that Cincinnati received a lot of help on Sunday with a number of AFC teams losing, including the Steelers and Ravens.

The tough road to the playoffs and a division title resumes on Sunday in Baltimore. They haven't fared well in that city in the Dalton era (0-2) and even though this doesn't appear to be the same strong Ravens team, they too are in desperation mode after three straight losses. The Bengals need to find that fine line between playing in "desperation mode" and playing tight.

We'll see if they find that line on Sunday.