CINCINNATI -- Remember how the Cincinnati Bengals had made it through all those weeks at the start of the season without suffering many major injuries?
Yeah, it seems like so long ago now.
Healthy for much of the regular season, the Bengals had made it all the way until Week 12 before having to put a player on injured reserve during the season. Following a shoulder injury in the Week 11 game at Arizona, second-year corner Darqueze Dennard went on IR, joining fellow second-year players Marquis Flowers (shoulder) and James Wright (knee), who were placed there before the season began. Other than the foot injury Adam Jones has tried to play through, Dennard's shoulder had been the only truly serious in-season ailment the Bengals had suffered.
In one quarter Sunday afternoon, the Bengals went from being one of the league's luckiest teams in terms of overall health to one of the unluckiest.
Just nine plays into the Bengals' 33-20 loss to Pittsburgh, quarterback Andy Dalton was lost for a significant amount of time because of a right thumb injury he suffered while trying to tackle Steelers lineman Stephon Tuitt, who had just intercepted one of Dalton's passes. Moments after Dalton jogged to the locker room for evaluation, Tyler Eifert joined him. The tight end was placed under the concussion protocol following a helmet-to-helmet hit from from Steelers safety Mike Mitchell, who was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play.
The Bengals are still awaiting the findings from a hand specialist who is evaluating Dalton. The best-case scenario is he would miss two weeks. At worst, he would be done for the regular season, with the slim possibility of returning for some part of the playoffs.
"We've been so fortunate with Andy because this is the first time he's missed time since he was a rookie," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "I just knock on wood every time someone says that, and now we're going to play a game without Andy."
Backup quarterback AJ McCarron will be starting next Sunday at San Francisco.
Just how healthy had the Bengals been before losing two critical offensive playmakers Sunday?
According to STATS LLC, the Bengals entered Week 14 tied with the Miami Dolphins for having the fewest players currently on IR. Both teams had three. The Raiders entered the week with only four.
Prior to Sunday's game, Bengals players had only missed a combined 62 games this season due to injury. That was the second fewest to the Dolphins, who have missed 55 games.
Although other players came in and out of Sunday's physical game with various injuries -- linebacker Vontaze Burfict and Shawn Williams were among those who missed some time -- Lewis believes Dalton may end up being the only player who misses next week's game at San Francisco.
"We'll see how it goes during the week," Lewis said. "I don't think we had anybody else that would necessarily miss, but we'll see."