CINCINNATI -- And now the plot thickens.
A master storyteller will arouse one's interest. Then he'll hold your attention by developing characters and setting the mood. He'll suck in the reader with just enough information to make him comfortable with the tale's direction. But a good writer then pulls out the rug repeatedly. He'll twist the story one way and then turn it another. Suddenly the reader isn't so sure about the ending. It becomes page turner. It's why we sit awake until 3 a.m. devouring the next chapter. It's why John Grisham is a zillionaire.
The NFL season operates in the same manner. Bengal fans learned all about it Sunday.
The Bengals had laid the groundwork with a great start. A subtle twist came when Houston delivered a surprise. Another turn came when Carson Palmer bedeviled the Bengals the following week.
The next chapter brought redemption, successes over the Rams and Browns and it appeared we knew with certainty the outcome of the season.
Then came Sunday. Andy Dalton threw a pass that some behemoth from the Steelers managed to catch. Dalton did what he was taught since peewee football: tackle the brute! To do otherwise would be unthinkable. In doing so, he hurt his thumb. The one on his throwing hand. He came to the sidelines and tried to grip a football. He couldn't. He didn't need X-rays to tell him he was in trouble.
And so with one ill-advised pass, followed by one ill-advised tackle, the story of the Bengals season has changed dramatically. Sure, the lead is still big and two of the Bengals next three opponents are crummy. But now the Bengals have to beat them with a second-string quarterback. And what do we know about A.J. McCarron? We know he went to Alabama and has a stunning wife. We know bupkis about his ability to play football in the NFL.
While this turn of events is most unsettling, it allows this Bengals season to go from great to spectacular. Imagine if the next chapter is all about this new quarterback who becomes the next Tom Brady, or at the very least Earl Morrall (look it up). Imagine if the rest of the offense rallied around this unproven kid and and performed amazing feats. Imagine if the defense stepped up another notch and started to punch people in the mouth.
Bengals players this season have talked about the team concept. "Nameless and faceless" is the description we heard last week. It means there are no stars. It means all have to give up personal glory for the good of the entire unit. They lived with the absence of Burfict. They lived with the injury to Eifert. They lived with various injuries in the secondary. Now they'll have to live with the loss of Andy Dalton.
It made for real tear jerker on Sunday. But it could make for a great feel-good story in the weeks ahead. Like a good book, you just have to keep turning the page and see what happens.