The Miami Dolphins were brought down to earth last week by the New England Patriots, but can regain their equilibrium on Sunday when they visit the Cincinnati Bengals in a battle of division leaders.
The Dolphins were pushed around by the Patriots, but the good news is they are 3-1 and a game ahead of the Patriots atop the AFC East, although the Bengals also are 3-1 and lead the AFC Central.
“We’re looking to play better on both sides (of the ball),” said Miami head coach Adam Gase, whose Dolphins will be without center Daniel Kilgore, who sustained a torn triceps against the Patriots and will be replaced by Travis Swanson.
“Having a week to get ready for the game, that’ll be helpful for us. When you start throwing guys in and they haven’t really gotten a ton of reps with the first group, especially at center, that’s a tough spot to put a guy in. It’ll be good to get a full week’s worth of practice with him and the quarterback and the rest of the guys.”
The Dolphins will try to reach 4-1 for the first time since 2003 and there is reason to think they have a chance since quarterback Ryan Tannehill is 10-2 in his last 12 starts to match Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles and Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams over that span.
Miami holds a 15-6 series lead over Cincinnati and is with 2-1 with Tannehill matched against quarterback Andy Dalton, although the Bengals won the last meeting, 22-7, two years ago.
By contract, the Bengals are coming into the game on a high after pulling out a 37-36 road victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Dalton’s 13-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green’s in the right corner of the end zone with seven seconds remaining.
The Bengals also beat the Indianapolis Colts, 34-23, on the road, downed the Baltimore Ravens, by the same score at home and lost to the Carolina Panthers, 31-21, on the road.
“When the schedule came out we knew were playing three of the first four on the road,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “We knew it was going to be tough sledding. Not as good as we hoped, but we earned this. It won’t matter if we don’t take care of business the rest of the way.”
The Dolphins averaged 25 points a game in their three victories, not quite as prolific as the Bengals, but this could turn into another shootout.
Tannehill will continue to look for wide receivers Kenny Stills, who has 29 touchdown receptions and a 16.3-yard per catch average in six seasons, and Albert Wilson, who has caught 70.6 percent of the passes thrown his way this season, which would be a career high if he continues at this pace.
Dalton, who led the 22nd game-winning drive of his career last week to get within one of Boomer Esiason’s franchise record, leads an offense that average 31.5 points per game.
Green, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, has turned five of his 20 catches into touchdowns this season, while wide receiver Tyler Boyd, caught 11 passes for 100 yards last week and has 26 receptions for 349 yards and two scores in four games. Two of his catches last week came on vital four downs.
However, the Bengals suffered a huge blow when Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert sustained a broken ankle while catching a pass in the third quarter against the Falcons.
Eifert is expected to undergo surgery and probably will be sidelined for the rest of the season.
“It’s tough,” running back Giovani Bernard said of Eifert’s injury. “We play this sport and some people just don’t deserve that to happen. He’s gone through a lot. It is just the emotions of it. There is going to be those highs and those lows.”
Without Eifert, C.J. Uzomah probably will be the starting tight end, with Tyler Kroft elevated to backup. Kroft has four catches for 36 yards this season while Uzomah had seven catches for 74 yards and a touchdown in Week 3 against Carolina.
After Eifert was injured, Cincinnati ran 43 plays. Uzomah was on the field for 36 while Kroft was there for 11. Perhaps a bigger indication of who starts was Uzomah being on the field for all six red-zone plays and for the entire 16-play game-winning drive.
“I’ve said this before,” Uzomah said. “I think we have the best tight end group depth-wise in the league. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem for us.
“Obviously, it’s a big hit because Eif is a Pro Bowl tight end and he’s a hell of a player. It sucks because he’s our boy, but it’s been next man up and we’ve done it before, so we’re just going to have to do it again.”
The Bengals also have been without injured star running back Joe Mixon, and that hasn’t slowed them down.