Bye week welcome relief for banged-up Bengals

Wide receiver A.J. Green walked through the Cincinnati Bengals locker room Tuesday wearing a protective boot on his right foot.

Linebacker Nick Vigil hobbled by on crutches with his knee still in a brace from an injury suffered three weeks ago.

Tight end Tyler Kroft parked a scooter at his locker to help him prop his injured foot up and more easily get around.

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And those were just the players present during the final open locker room period for media heading into the team’s bye.

If it wasn’t already clear how badly the Bengals needed a break in the schedule, the oft open door to the training room is a good indication.

“Our bodies need a rest,” offensive lineman Trey Hopkins said. “As you can see, there are a lot of guys banged up right now, so the bye comes at a good time to hopefully heal up and just allow our bodies to recover from the first half of the season and all the work we’ve been putting in since August.”

The Bengals were fortunate to get through Sunday's game with a 37-34 win over Tampa Bay, despite an especially depleted defense that badly misses Vigil and Darqueze Dennard (shoulder), among a slew of other injuries.

Cincinnati is down four tight ends, center Billy Price has been out longer than he originally anticipated because of his foot injury suffered in Game 2 against Baltimore, wide receiver John Ross was inactive with a nagging groin injury, Giovani Bernard has been out three weeks with a knee injury and now Green is ailing.

Although Green’s boot could be precautionary, that would be another big blow. Green said he couldn’t talk Tuesday, but he appeared to injure his foot on his last catch to set up Randy Bullock’s game-winning touchdown Sunday. He took his shoe off and was being looked at on the sideline at the end of the game.

The Bengals used all their inactive spots on injured players, adding linebacker Vontaze Burfict to the list with a hip injury suffered at Kansas City, but Price and Bernard appear to be getting close to a return and the week off should help that. Price practiced for the first time since Week 2 last week in limited fashion.

Ross’ status is unknown, and when Lewis was asked if he expected to have some guy back after the bye, he gave his typical evasive “we’ll see” response.

The players are hopeful the extra week before hosting New Orleans on Nov. 11 allows some of their teammates to get back to full health but also enables those with bumps and bruises to come back refreshed.

“The bye week is going to be great for the recovery aspect,” linebacker Jordan Evans said. “That’s something we’re going to need.”

Cincinnati is sitting pretty good despite all the injuries, inconsistencies on offense and struggles on defense, entering the second half at 5-3.

Players say they aren’t satisfied, but it’s not a bad position to be sitting just behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

“We’re very happy,” safety Jessie Bates said. “It could be a lot worse, and it could be a lot better. Being 5-3 going into the bye week, guys are going to be able to go home and see their families and kind of press the restart button and get this thing going. The second part of the season will be very special for us.”

Hopkins is confident if the team can win five games in a first half of a season like this one, there is no reason to believe the second half can’t be better as young players now understand their roles more. Even he was learning a new role the last six weeks after filling in for Price at center — a spot he’s come to enjoy.

“I think we’ve laid a foundation,” Hopkins said. “The most important thing now is that we take off in the second half of the season. The teams that go deep in the playoffs and make it to the big game, those are the teams that get hot at the end of the year. There’s a lot of football to be played. We have to trend upward and be on our stuff the rest of the way.”

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said the bye is as much about mental health as it is physical health.

Quarterback Andy Dalton said he will use the time off to relax and refresh, and coaches need that just as much as players sometimes. The bye also is a chance to spend more time evaluating players and situations to get better.

“The opportunity for us to evaluate comes at a good time, and to have the guys understand their responsibilities,” Lewis said. “(The bye week) will be a good time for that.”


Sunday, Nov. 11

Saints at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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