The Cincinnati Bengals took a double hit this afternoon as quarterback Andy Dalton and tight end Tyler Eifert were both knocked out of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers today.
According to ESPN, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton left the game with a thumb injury in the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The initial thoughts were that it wasn’t serious and Dalton would be able to return. However, the mood quickly turned.
“After initially being declared questionable to return, Dalton was downgraded moments later and returned to the sideline with a black cast around his right hand.”
Dalton’s screen pass to running back Giovani Bernard was picked off by the Steelers Stephon Tuitt. Tuitt moved right by Bernard, jumping the route to make the interception. Dalton went in for the tackle, but his right hand struck Tuitt’s knee on the tackle instead. Andy was next seen on his way to the Cincinnati Bengals locker room, where he was eventually declared out.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Bengals also lost their star tight end Tyler Eifert during Cincinnati’s opening drive. He was immediately placed under the NFL’s concussion protocol and removed from the grave. On the play, Steelers defender Mike Mitchell, who was flagged for hitting a defenseless receiver, hit Eifert when he wasn’t looking.
The Bengals, 10-2 on the year, appear to be in no danger to miss the playoffs, but a loss to the 7-5 Steelers would bring Pittsburgh within two games of the division at 8-5. And depending on how long Dalton is out for, could impact the winner of the AFC North. As pointed out by Bleacher Report, these two teams met once already this year with Cincinnati pulling out a 16-10 victory over Ben Roethlisberger.
In a defensive struggle, the Bengals intercepted Big Ben three times. A win today would lock the Bengals in atop the NFC North and send the Steelers down the Wild Card tree, currently dominated by the red hot Kansas City Chiefs and the surging New York Jets. Instead, the injury to Dalton opens the door for the Steelers to creep up in the playoff race.
The likelihood of the Bengals missing the playoffs is extremely slim. According to the NFL, Cincinnati currently sits atop the AFC playoff seeding at 10-2. But the loss of Andy Dalton could impact playoff positioning as the Bengals are tied with both the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots.
New England, the frontrunner for most of the season, has been on a two-game slide after suffering numerous injuries to key players like Rob Gronkowski, Julain Edleman, and rookie running back Dion Lewis. As reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Tom Brady and company will get a boost as the aforementioned Gronk is expected to play after all.
One source this am on Patriots’ TE Rob Gronkowski’s availability for tonight’s game: “It looks good.” Scott Chandler also expected to play.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 13, 2015
A win against Houston combined with a loss from the Bengals would put the Patriots right back into the top seed depending on what the Broncos do against the Raiders at 4:00 p.m. EST today. The Broncos are also riding a winning streak behind backup Brock Osweiler and could have a healthy Peyton Manning behind center for a stretch run.
Whatever the outcome, the Bengals would have to rely on A.J. MacCarron to guide them into the playoffs if Dalton’s injury proves to be long term. And for some Bengals fans, that might not be the worse thing. There has been plenty of talk of Andy Dalton’s recent playoff woes with many NFL pundits questioning whether or not he can lead Cincinnati to the promise land.
Cincinnati Bengals fans may soon get their answer.
[Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images]