Fay: Who can turn the Bengals' season around?

Fay: Who can turn the Bengals' season around?
Posted at 6:04 PM, Sep 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-29 13:17:43-04

CINCINNATI -- The Bengals clearly haven't been good enough this year. A 1-2 record is proof of that, even if one loss was on the road in Pittsburgh and the other was to defending Super Bowl champions the Denver Broncos.

The Bengals are going to have to get better quickly, or their five-season streak of playoffs berths is going to be serious peril.

That, as they say, is the bad news. The good news is Bengals are about to get a huge infusion of talent on both sides of the ball.

Vontaze Burfict’s suspension is over. He’s eligible to play Thursday night against the Miami Dolphins. Tight end Tyler Eifert is practicing for the second straight week after offseason ankle surgery.

Coach Marvin Lewis was his usual coy self when asked if either or both will play.

"He looks good," Lewis said of Eifert. “He wants to play."

Do you want him to play?

"We’ll make that decision Thursday," Lewis said.

As for Burfict?

"He wants to play as well," Lewis said. “We’ll bring him to roster at some point Wednesday or Thursday, whether he plays our not."

Eifert and Burfict probably rate fourth and fifth on the Most Important Player list behind Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Geno Atkins, and it’s clear that the team is good right now to win without Eifert and Burfict.

Eifert led the Bengals with 13 touchdown catches last year, and one stat this year points to how much Eifert is missed.

The Bengals have gotten in the Red Zone 10 times this year. They scored three touchdowns and made six field goals. That’s 29th in the NFL -- as far TD conversion rate. They were fifth last year.

Second-year man C.J. Uzomah started in Eifert’s stead the first two games. He has seven catches for 99 yards -- 54 of those yards came on one catch. He had two drops Sunday in the loss to Denver.

Tyler Kroft started against Denver. He did not have a catch.

Eifert had 13 catches for 152 yards and three touchdowns after three games last year, and that was after getting shut out in Game 3.

Lewis is being cautious with Eifert -- understandably so, given his injury history. Eifert had a full week of practice leading into the Denver game, but the Bengals put him on the inactive list.

But the team's passing game was awful Sunday. Dalton went into the last drive of the day with 102 yards passing.

If he plays Thursday, Eifert will be in a limited role.

“When we bring him back to play, we’re not going to expect him to be out there for 65 snaps,” Lewis said.

Burfict served a three-game suspension for his hit on Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown in the Wild Card game last year. He was not allowed to be around the team once the regular season started. He did not play in the preseason because of an foot injury.

Burfict’s role may be more important than Eifert’s. He led in the team in tackles in the 10 games he player last year. And the defense runs through him.

He is also a ferocious hitter and plays with the kind of abandon that gets him in trouble -- thus the suspension -- but it’s important to have players like him on a defense.

The team felt his impact when he returned to practice.

"You feel as soon as he walks the on the field," Lewis said. “His command of things is excellent. I think, again, you’ve got to be starting through it. He’s been away for a couple of weeks. He got to take care of himself whenever that chance comes."

If I had to guess, I’d think both Eifert and Burfict will play Thursday. It really is a perfect scenario for a returning player. They’d get three days to recover.

And, although a 1-2 start is nothing panic over, a 1-3 start with road games at Dallas and New England coming next would officially be a signal for fans to start worrying.