The Cincinnati Bengals, like so many other teams at this point of the year, are filling voids in a defensive and offensive line that has been beat up but are far from out. Pivotal defensive tackle Geno Atkins is the latest casualty of the season with a torn ACL in his right knee suffered during the Bengals’ Thursday Night Football loss to the Miami Dolphins in overtime 22-20. Cincinnati is still looking for someone to compensate for the loss of Atkins and a number of other key players this season.
Atkins went down in the second quarter while assisting on a tackle during a 3-yard Miami run. His leg was rolled over and twisted under a pile of players. Atkins had to be carted off the field and later appeared on the sideline on crutches.
An MRI Friday confirmed fears that Atkins would be out for the remainder of the season. Four days earlier, the Bengals lost four players in the 49-9 crushing of the New York Jets. Among them, linebacker Ray Maualuga (knee, concussion), defensive back Taylor Mays (shoulder), and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth (left knee) were all inactive for Thursday’s game.
Maualuga is out for about 3-4 weeks, and Whitworth’s knee was too swollen to allow him to play. Mays is out for the season, however, and his replacement, Andrew Hawkins, was signed off the Bengals injured-reserve list before the Miami game. Hawkins had been on IR since injuring his ankle diving for a pass in preseason.
Atkins, a four–year veteran, was re-signed before the start of the season to a $55 million contract. NFL Network’s Warren Sapp called him, “The best defensive tackle in the game right now.” Sapp extolled the virtues of Atkins on the pre-game show Thursday, mentioning how he delighted in watching Atkins “play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Sapp compared Atkins to his contemporary, six-time Pro-Bowler Le’Roi Glover. Glover played for the Raiders, the Saints, the Cowboys and the rams from 1996 to 2008. In his 13 year career he had 320 tackles, 83.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, and two interceptions.
Atkins’ year ends with six sacks, and 20 tackles. From 2010 to present, he played 57 games gained 136 tackles, 84 of which were solo and 29 sacks. During the game, Coach Marvin Lewis inserted Wallace Gilberry in Atkins’ place. Despite battling a groin issue, Gilberry toughed out 22 snaps. More permanently, defensive lineman Brandon Thompson will be taking the spot.
Hawkins, stepping in for Mays, was the Bengals’ third-leading receiver last season. He got his first chance to play this season after Mays’ injury. He played in 4 games last season getting 51 catches for 553 yards and four touchdowns. Further patching up their lines, Cincinnati also re-sighed DeQuin Evans to the practice squad. Evans was released just one day after returning from an 8-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy against performance enhancing substances.
Coach Lewis is optimistic about defensive tackle Devon Still’s return helping to restore some of the depth and strength to the Bengals’ D-line. Still has been out with an elbow injury from two weeks ago, sustained against the Detroit Lions. Lewis could not be certain Still’s elbow will be sufficiently healed to allow him to play next week against the Baltimore Ravens but looks forward to having him back on the field soon.
Keeping their lines fresh on the field has been one of the keys to the Bengals’ success. In an effort to shore up the depth chart, the Cincinnati has also reached out to former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rappaport. Ratliff was released by the Cowboys after eight years on the team citing health issues. Despite passing a physical and being cleared to play the week after he was cut, reports indicate Ratliff needs a few more weeks to recover from hamstring and sport hernia injuries, so would be no immediate help to the Bengals.
Ratliff had surgery in December to repair pelvic tendons, and had not played for the Cowboys in over a year and half, according to Coach Jason Garrett.
Doctors’ prognosis of Atkins ACL tear is optimistic however. At the moment it appears to be a simple tear that can be easily repaired. He should be ready to go come the 2014 season but he is, like so many others, out for the rest of this season.
These men play hard, throwing everything they have into imposing their will on opposing teams. Injuries go hand-in-hand with playing this game. When one falls, the “next man up” while dealing with considerable concern for his comrade, has to step in to fill the void and do the job. The Bengals and the entire league live with this reality every time they hit the field, in practice or in play. Getting beat up is part of the game. Staying on your feet and getting back into the battle is part of the player.
By Brandi Tasby