CINCINNATI — The Bengals have placed starting middle linebacker Preston Brown on injured reserve, the team announced on Tuesday.
The injury is a blow to an already depleted defense that had to play two backup linebackers last week against the Ravens.
Brown said he injured his knee in the third quarter of a game against the Saints on Nov. 11. He was in a knee brace the following week and did not practice, but said he couldn’t discuss what specifically was wrong.
“Coach says I can’t speak about injuries,” Brown said on Wednesday. “It happened in like the third quarter but I kept playing. So I’m not really sure.”
Brown signed with the Bengals in the spring after spending the first four years of his career in Buffalo. He never missed a game with the Bills and was tied for the NFL lead in tackles last year.
However, he only played in seven games this season in Cincinnati after injuring his ankle in the season opener, which caused him to miss the next two games. He also tweaked the ankle against the Dolphins but played the next week.
His knee injury will end his season, and his likely replacement is Hardy Nickerson, who has filled in for Brown
Brown is the fourth straight free agent linebacker the Bengals signed. Others included A.J. Hawk in 2015, Karlos Dansby in 2016 and Kevin Minter in 2017. None of those signings lasted more than one season.
BALTIMORE — In his first NFL start, Lamar Jackson provided a jolt of electricity to a struggling offense, ended a three-game losing streak and essentially saved the Baltimore Ravens‘ season.
Showing Michael Vick-like explosiveness, Jackson ran for 117 yards and threw for 150 as the Baltimore Ravens delivered a much-needed 24-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.
Jackson, the rookie first-round pick, accounted for 66 percent of Baltimore’s offense in replacing Joe Flacco, whose 41-game consecutive start streak ended due to a hip injury.
Three days removed from going to the hospital because of an illness, Jackson became the first NFL quarterback since 2016 to rush for 100 yards in a game. The last to do so was Colin Kaepernick (113 yards). His 117 yards also set a new single-game rushing record for Ravens quarterbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The previous high was 65 by Tyrod Taylor on Dec. 30, 2012 against the Bengals.
In delivering the Ravens’ first win in 35 days, Jackson showed speed to get to edges, elusiveness in the pocket and the ability to hit targets over the middle with quick-hitting passes against the NFL’s worst defense. He finished with 13-of-19 passing and ran the ball 27 times.
Jackson’s impressive starting debut was certainly timely. The Ravens (5-5) are now tied with the Bengals, Tennessee Titans and Miami Dolphins for the AFC’s No. 6 and final playoff spot. A loss to Cincinnati would’ve plummeted the Ravens’ playoff chances to 7.7 percent, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
There were some growing pains along the way for Jackson, the youngest quarterback to ever start a game for Baltimore at 21 years old. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner fumbled a shotgun snap (which he recovered) and he hit an offensive lineman’s helmet with a sidearm pass.
His biggest mistake came on the first drive of the second half, when Jackson faked out Carlos Dunlap and then threw an interception. The Bengals converted that turnover into a touchdown and eventually took a 21-13 lead.
Jackson rebounded on his next two drives, guiding Baltimore to a touchdown and a field goal to take a 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter. On those two series, Jackson completed 4 of 5 passes for 58 yards and ran for 23 yards on four carries.
Walking on the field to a resounding cheer to start the game, Jackson began with a bang, leading a 75-yard touchdown drive on his first series. Not attempting a pass, he ran five times for 46 yards, tying the most carries by a quarterback on an opening drive since 2001 (Alex Smith had five in 2013).
How fast is Jackson? According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Jackson hit a max speed of 10 miles per hour, the most on a single drive by a quarterback this season, on his five runs in the opening series. The previous high was 4 mph by Dak Prescott in Week 6.
By the middle of the third quarter, Jackson had set the Ravens’ franchise record for rushing yards by a quarterback. By the end of the third quarter, Jackson had eclipsed 100 yards.
The question now is which quarterback leads the Ravens going forward. Flacco will not require surgery on his injured hip, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. He could miss the Ravens’ game at home Nov. 25 against the Raiders as well, according to the source, but is not expected to miss time beyond that.
It would be Jackson’s first NFL start, giving Baltimore a chance to observe the player it drafted to be the team’s quarterback of the future.
Flacco, listed as doubtful on the injury report, will not require surgery on his injured hip, a source told Schefter. He could miss the Ravens’ game next Sunday at home against the Raiders as well, according to the source, but is not expected to miss much time beyond that.
With Jackson as the expected starter, Robert Griffin III would be the backup quarterback against the Bengals.
Jackson’s first NFL start comes after a surprise-filled stretch of days in which the Ravens saw Flacco walking on crutches for a hip injury and sent Jackson to the hospital after he suffered stomach issues.
The first twist in the Ravens’ quarterback drama came at the end of last week, when it was revealed that Flacco’s status was uncertain because of a hip injury he suffered in a Nov. 4 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The next unexpected turn occurred Thursday when the team learned of Jackson’s illness just before the start of practice and took him to a hospital for precautionary reasons. That left Griffin, the only healthy quarterback on the roster, to handle all the reps at practice.
The change at quarterback represents a drastic shift for the Ravens, who go from one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the NFL to the youngest starting quarterback in franchise history. Jackson, 21, becomes Baltimore’s first rookie starting quarterback since 2008, when Flacco coincidentally jumped to the top of the depth chart because of injuries to Kyle Boller and Troy Smith.
Jackson, who has been used in specialty packages, gets his first extended action against a Bengals defense that has been historically bad. Cincinnati is the first defense to allow over 500 yards in consecutive games in the Super Bowl era.
Entering Sunday’s game, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he has seen “tremendous development” in Jackson.
“He’s working every day, right through training camp, right through the season, at practice, and then extra after practice, meetings,” Harbaugh said. “[He’s a] very diligent, very smart, very aware quarterback. He sees the game well, and then now all the process that goes into just training that eye has been valuable. So, we have seen improvement, and in practice, he looks good.”
In this year’s draft, the Ravens traded back into the first round to select Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner. Jackson became the the only player in FBS history to rush for at least 1,500 yards and pass for at least 3,500 yards in a season. And Jackson accomplished this feat twice (in 2016 and 2017).
He went 22-11 as a starting quarterback at Louisville and was a touchdown machine. He reached the end zone 119 times (a school record), running for 50 and throwing for 69.
CINCINNATI — The Bengals placed tight end Tyler Kroft on injured reserve on Friday, ending his season several weeks after he broke a bone in his foot against the Dolphins on Oct. 7.
The reason behind the delay was the hope that Kroft could eventually come back this season if everything went right. But it was clear after Kroft remained in a walking boot several weeks later that things weren’t progressing as they had hoped.
Kroft said he met with numerous doctors and specialists to try to figure out a solution but also indicated in October that everything needed to go perfectly to plan for him to be able to come back.
“It’s been weird,” Kroft said on Oct. 24. “It started the first day. We thought something was going to happen, and the next day comes around, and we’re … it’s evolving every week, honestly. We’re trying to keep that in mind, and we’re doing everything we can to come back this year and not prolong it.”
Kroft stayed in the game after his injury occurred despite hearing a “pop” that indicated a bone was broken.
“We knew what had happened to it and felt like I could push through it and go,” he said.
“Coming into the year we thought we were a pretty deep position group. It’s awful how snake-bitten we’ve been this year,” he said.
The Bengals promoted tight ends Jordan Franks off their practice squad on Oct. 23. and Matt Lengel off the Texans practice squad on Oct. 10. Eifert, who is out for the season, was still in a walking boot and on crutches as of Friday.
Lewis and Jackson have an incredibly close relationship and talk on the phone almost every week. Lewis probably trusts Jackson as much as anyone he ever has had on staff, enough to bring him back to the fold three separate times. He’s going to need that now that he’s down a staff member.
Things changed quickly once Lewis fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and took over playcalling duties himself. There aren’t many coaches who actually take on both roles, which probably is why Lewis placed a call to Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on the night of a disastrous 51-14 loss to the Saints, likely seeking advice.
That’s not to mention the fact Lewis hasn’t actually called the defensive plays on a regular basis since he was the Redskins’ defensive coordinator in 2002. The last time was in 2004, when he took over the playcalling from Leslie Frazier in a 34-17 loss to the Browns. He gave it back the next week, but Frazier ended up getting fired at the end of the season.
“It’s different [on defense], because on offense most of the decisions are made. Most of the things happen on offense,” Lewis said. “You don’t decide whether the offense is going for it on fourth down when you’re calling the offense, you already did. But the defense doesn’t decide whether the offense is going for it on fourth down and so forth. That’s why you see fewer on defense.”
Lewis admitted he quickly felt like he wasn’t able to be on top of everything against the Saints while he was trying to pull the defense out of its slump. Lewis usually leaves that sort of thing to his coordinators, but he went to the defensive players himself that day to try to snap them out of it. That meant he wasn’t seeing what was happening on offense.
“A lot of things happen when you’re on defense. I had my back turned yesterday to the offense a couple times, trying to bring the defense together. Things happen,” he said. “It could be whether or not we made a catch, and if we made a first down or not. If I’ve got my back turned, I have to make the decision if we’re going for it. Are we in four-down territory? I have to let Bill [Lazor] know and the quarterback know that they have three downs here. Those kind of things. If I have my back turned by making corrections or whatever, I can’t do that. I’m going to try to minimize that as much as possible. I feel strongly that I have to make the correction to coach the defense right now.”
When asked how he planned to handle both roles going forward, he grinned.
“I’ve got a plan,” he said. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”
That plan apparently comes in the form of Jackson, although it’s unclear just what he’s going to do on game day. Lewis implied in a statement that Jackson would help on defense, when his entire coaching background is on offense. Jackson was a secondary assistant for the Bengals in 2012, but that was essentially a placeholder while the Bengals tried to find a spot for him after he had been fired as coach of the Raiders the previous year.
“I have a great comfort level with Hue and his ability to assist me with the day-to-day responsibilities on defense, including analyzing our opponents and helping me on game days with the players and defensive coaches,” Lewis said in a news release.
Because Austin was in the booth, Lewis will lose one staff member up there and said he doesn’t plan to move anyone around. That makes it likely Jackson will be down on the sideline, where he could help Lewis by being an extra eye on offense.
While Jackson didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard as head coach of the Raiders and Browns (11-44-1 coaching record), he has proved his capabilities as an assistant at every stop. The Bengals’ offense was extremely successful when he was coordinator in 2015, albeit with many different players than they have now. It makes sense to add him to get some additional help, and he could provide intel on the Browns, whom the Bengals haven’t played this season.
The only real downside is the potential to mess with the chemistry of the coaching staff or the feeling that Lazor could be looking over his shoulder with Jackson around.
But considering Lewis made it clear that everyone in the building, including himself, is on notice after their performances lately, hurt feelings are probably the least of his concern. Lewis, like everyone else, just wants some help.
“The guys want to help,” Lewis said on Monday. “‘Give me something.’ … ‘Help me through this.’ That’s the thing, I have to be the rock. That’s why I have to hide my feelings on the sideline and not choke anybody out or anything.”
Maybe Jackson can be that help. With seven games left, and the Browns up twice, surely the Bengals will take all the help they can get.
CINCINNATI — It’s looking likely that Bengals wideout A.J. Green could be out until at least December with a toe injury, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Green avoided surgery on the toe he injured against the Buccaneers prior to the Bengals bye week, however, the initial prediction was that he would be out at least two games. An early December return would have him missing three games.
If Green returns at the beginning of December, he would miss games against the Saints, Ravens and Browns.
Green was in a walking boot on Friday, although he also took it off and walked around without it. He declined to speak to reporters until he makes his return.
Green leads the Bengals with 687 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns. He is inactive for Sunday’s game against the Saints, which is his first game out since he tore his hamstring in 2016.
CINCINNATI — Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers with a hip injury.
Burfict appeared to injure his hip late in the third quarter of the Bengals’ loss to the Chiefs last Sunday and immediately went to the locker room. He did not return and was quickly ruled out.
Burfict has played in only three games this season. He missed the first four games of the season while surviving a suspension for a violation of the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy. He has not played a full season since 2013 due to injuries and suspensions.
It hasn’t been smooth sailing for Burfict since his return. He was fined $112,000 by the NFL for two plays against the Steelers that the league defined as unnecessary roughness. He also missed several tackles in the blowout loss to the Chiefs.
“He hasn’t played as well as he has in the past,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis on Wednesday.
Lewis declined any followup questions on Burfict.
“I don’t want to talk about Vontaze. It’s not relevant,” he said.
A grievance filed against the Cincinnati Bengals on behalf of Eric Reid was denied by an independent arbitrator, a source confirmed to ESPN.
The NFL Players Association filed the grievance on behalf of Reid after Bengals owner Mike Brown reportedly asked if Reid would continue standing during the national anthem.
Reid was brought in by the Bengals for a free-agent visit at the time but was not signed. The grievance argued that the Bengals negotiated in bad faith because the team had no intention to sign Reid if he said he would continue to kneel — despite the fact that standing for the national anthem is not mandated in the collective bargaining agreement.
According to the NFL Network — which first reported the news — the arbitrator ruled the Bengals were within their rights to ask if Reid would continue to kneel. Reid began kneeling during the anthem during the 2016 season when he was with the San Francisco 49ers, as a way to support Colin Kaepernick and draw attention to issues of social injustice.
Reid remained a free agent until he was signed by the Carolina Panthers in September and has continued to kneel during the national anthem. Kaepernick, who was the first player to begin kneeling during the anthem, remains unsigned and hasn’t played since the 2016 season.
Reid got into an argument with Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins on Sunday after he called Jenkins a “sellout”
Reid and Jenkins have been feuding since Jenkins, the cofounder of the Players Coalition, stopped raising his fist during the anthem after the NFL announced it would donate $100 million to causes considered important to the coalition.
“He co-opted with the movement that was started by Colin to get his organization started. It was cowardly. He sold us out,” Reid told reporters.
Reid and several other players withdrew from the coalition in November 2017, and he has since called it an “NFL-funded subversion group.”
The Bengals have not commented on the ruling.
Reid still has a grievance pending against the NFL. In May, Reid and his attorney, Mark Geragos, filed the grievance, alleging that team owners and the league, influenced by President Donald Trump, colluded to prevent his employment because of his protests. Kaepernick filed a similar grievance and an arbitrator recently sent it to trial, denying the league’s request to have it thrown out.
The unit put on its worst performance of the season with a national audience watching, allowing 551 yards in a 45-10 loss to the Chiefs. But the final score didn’t show just how bad it was. Then again, losing by 35 says a lot.
Players missed tackles all night, allowed Chiefs players to get wide open for scores and essentially looked like they were a step behind the other team all night. Even linebacker Vontaze Burfict, arguably one of the Bengals’ best defensive players, looked completely inept when matched up against the speed of the Chiefs’ offense. Burfict had only two tackles before leaving in the third quarter with a hip injury.
The Bengals have a problem, and it’s not going to go away. While they might be able to pull out wins when their defense is generating turnovers, they don’t match up well against any type of speed or quick-paced offense. On nights like Sunday, when the Bengals’ offense also isn’t clicking, the issue becomes even more obvious.
For whatever reason, the Bengals’ defense has not gotten going under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and it’s hard to say what percentage falls on the players vs. the scheme. There’s not exactly a solution waiting in the wings either.
The Bengals’ defensive line has failed to get any pressure the past two games, and both their linebacker and cornerback depth are razor thin outside of the starting players.
That’s not to say the offense shouldn’t take its share of the blame. The Bengals failed to capitalize on several breaks against a porous defense that came into Sunday’s game ranked last in the league. A kickoff that went out of bounds and an interception by Shawn Williams gave the Bengals good field position, but the offense responded by going three-and-out both times. Quarterback Andy Dalton threw a pick-six and couldn’t get the ball to anyone but A.J. Green.
That’s not to mention the head scratching aborted punt that resulted in a quick Chiefs’ touchdown, or the decision to punt with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter when the Bengals were trailing 45 to 10. At that point, it seemed clear the Bengals had thrown in the towel.
The Bengals need to change their mindset, whether it’s a more aggressive scheme or a different approach. If there’s no savior on the roster, then it’s on the coaching staff to reassess what has gone wrong with the team in the past two weeks and figure out how to cater to the strengths of the players they have.
The Bengals couldn’t stop the Steelers in the final minute of last week’s loss, and they couldn’t stop the Chiefs at any point on Sunday. Unless they go back to forcing timely turnovers, it’s almost a given that the defense will cost them more games. The Bengals certainly have talent at key spots, and that’s why these performances are so puzzling.
If the Bengals want to be considered a legitimate playoff contender this year, they certainly have a long way to go before proving they’re in the conversation. So far, they haven’t proven anything yet.
The plays that drew the fines included ones involving wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back James Conner during the third quarter.
Brown caught a pass over the middle and was tackled by two Bengals defenders when Burfict flew in with his right elbow, connecting with Brown’s upper body and head area. Brown was down on the turf for a few seconds and was evaluated by the team on the sideline before re-entering the game. After the game, Brown called the play a “nasty hit.”
Burfict has been fined more than $415,000 during his NFL career. The latest sanction is the 11th time he has been fined in his seven NFL seasons.
He also has been suspended twice for a total of six games, including a three-game ban for a hit on Brown during a 2016 playoff game.
Steelers players consistently praise Burfict’s ability as a player but say they wish he would tone down the viciousness.
“He’s hurting his team,” Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert said earlier this week. “It could have been a costly penalty right there. Who knows? He should be suspended for that hit. We’ll see. But he’s too good of a football player to be missing games like that.”