He upper right arm was covered with puffy red welts and scrapes. His right hand had some skin gouged out. His uniform pants were ripped.
Jeff Driskel – who had just made his first NFL start — wasn’t just the battered, losing quarterback from Cincinnati’s 24-10 loss to Denver on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
He was the poster child of a team that began the season 4-1 and now has become everyone’s party piñata come Sunday afternoons.
The Bengals didn’t just lose for the sixth time in the last seven games, they imploded:
•They once again were hit by numbing injury. They came into the game with 14 players on injured reserve – tied for the most in the NFL – and in the second quarter A.J. Green, who had just returned from a three-game absence because of turf toe – ended up crumpled on the field. It appeared to be his foot again and this time he was in tears with his hands covering his face as he was taken by cart to the dressing room.
In the second half, linebacker Vontaze Burfict – once a tackling machine for the team, now a guy often out of the lineup because of suspensions or recurring injuries – left the game with a concussion.
•The Bengals were more undisciplined than usual, being flagged a whopping 12 times for 100 yards, many of them coming on pre-snap infractions.
•Along the same lines, they began to snap at each other as things went wrong on the field.
After right tackle Bobby Hart gave up a sack to Von Miller — Denver’s version of the Terminator — he and Driskel were face to face and had a heated exchange.
Afterward both just claimed it was the emotion of the game. Hart was thought to have told the young quarterback to get rid of the ball quicker and Driskel could have answered “how about blocking somebody.”
On the sidelines receiver Tyler Boyd and wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell got into a verbal dust up.
•As for the previously mentioned Miller, he and fellow Denver linebacker Bradley Chubb may be the best pass rushing combo in the league. Miller came into the game No. 4 in NFL in sacks with 11 and added 1 ½ more.
Chubb was No. 11 with nine and late in the game used a tomahawk chop on Driskel’s right arm to get a strip sack. He then recovered the bounding ball on the Bengals 18-yard line and that set up Denver’s final score, a 29-yard field goal.,
Miller and Chubb — along with 290-pound nose tackle Shelby Harris, who had 1 ½ sacks — are the reason Driskel looked so battle-worn afterward.
“That’s the NFL,” he said as he sat at his locker. “It’s a physical league. I knew that coming in. And (Miller and Chubb) are two of the premier edge rushers ion the league.”
“At the end of the day I had to get the ball out of there on time and not take the sacks. But it was tough.”
This was supposed to be a day of celebration for Driskel, who last started a game 1,080 days ago as the Louisiana Tech quarterback in the 2015 New Orleans Bowl. That day his opponent was the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
Since then he’d been drafted late and cut by the San Francisco 49rs, picked up by Cincinnati and spent much of his time on the practice squad. Last year he broke his wrist in the last preseason game and suffered a broken arm filling in as a receiver in practice late in the season.
While he has often been celebrated in his football career – he was the national high school player of the year in Florida, had one solid season with the Florida Gators, another as a grad transfer with Louisiana Tech and was even drafted by the Boston Red Sox though he didn’t play the sport in college – he’s come to know setbacks, as well.
It began when he signed with Florida, only to have Urban Meyer quit before he got there and Will Muschamp take over. In his four seasons at Florida, he went through three offensive coordinators, broke his leg, sat out a season and then lost his starting job.
That should be good prep work for this tortured assignment with the Bengals.
He inherited the job for the rest of the season a week ago when starter Andy Dalton tore ligaments in his thumb in the second half against Cleveland.
Coming off the bench, Driskel led Cincinnati to two scores in what ended up a 35-20 loss.
Sunday against Denver he never really got things rolling and the sight of Green being carted off especially hit him.
The All Pro receiver would have been his go-to guy he admitted.
Receiver and return man Alex Erickson — who lost a fumble, as well — described the effect Green’s injury had, saying it “devastated” the team.
In the dressing room afterward, players searched for answers, but came up with little more than the same time-worn suggestions.
“I got to point the finger at myself, I’m not pointing it at anybody else here,” said cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who spent part of the game on the sidelines injured, as well. “I’ve got to ask what I can do better to make the team better.
“I can tell you now, this (crap) is getting on my nerves. This (crap) has got to stop. We’re professionals. They pay us a lot of money to be in positon out there and… to adjust. We’ve got to do better.
“We just got to pick it up.”
He said coming down the stretch is when teams show what they’re made of:
“This is when teams get hot.”
As he talked you noted – even though it was a balmy 63 degrees out – he had put on a heavy coat. He had the hood up over his head and he had on heavy boots.
“What’s with the big coat?” he was finally asked. “It’s warm out today.”
He didn’t really have an answer, but like he said this is when teams get hot.
And with the Bengals. that may be the only way that’s going to happen.
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