CINCINNATI — The bye week can’t get here quick enough for the Bengals. When the NFL schedule came out in April and the team’s bye showed up in Week 4, there was a lot of grumbling that it was too early in the season.
There’s no grumbling now, not with nine players — including Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green (toe), Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion) and left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee) — showing up on Wednesday’s injury report as not practicing. The Bengals have a shot at their first 3-0 start to a season since 2006 when they host Tennessee (1-1) Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium but they’ve got some healing to do.
Next week’s bye will be the earliest for the Bengals since they had a one on the opening weekend of the 2000 season. They had a bye in Week 3 of the 1997 season but that’s the only other time they’ve had a bye before Week 4 since the NFL instituted the bye in 1990.
"I’m a huge fan of early bye weeks this year," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "As we know when the schedule comes out we don’t know the way anything is going to unfold and play out then. Now when you get to this point, obviously we could benefit from having a week off. We can’t get to the week off without going out and playing well and preparing well this week and beating the Titans."
The Bengals already knew they would be without wide receiver Marvin Jones, who broke a foot bone in training camp, but running back Rex Burkhead (knee), offensive lineman Mike Pollak (knee), linebacker Sean Porter (hamstring), defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (knee) and right guard Kevin Zeitler (calf) were also held out of practice along with Green, Burfict and Whitworth.
The injuries to Thompson and Zeitler are expected to keep them out of the lineup until after the Bengals come back from the bye week and play at New England on Oct. 5. They also lost tight end Alex Smith (biceps) to season-ending injured reserve this week, while tight end Tyler Eifert (elbow) won’t be eligible to return and play in a game until Nov. 6 against Cleveland. Eifert is the Bengals’ player designated to return from IR but must miss at least eight weeks.
Pollak replaced Zeitler in Sunday’s 24-10 win against Atlanta and would be the starter against the Titans if he’s okay to play. Five players — Green, Burfict, Zeitler, Thompson and Smith — left that game with injuries and didn’t return. Whitworth suffered a lower leg bruise in the fourth quarter but returned to play one more series before being replaced by Marshall Newhouse.
Green has missed just one game in his three-plus seasons with the Bengals. That came as a rookie at Baltimore in 2011. He came out of Sunday’s game against the Falcons on the Bengals’ first drive.
"Any time I’m not on the field I feel like I’m letting my teammates down," said Green. "Even though we came out with the win, I still feel bad. But it’s something I can’t control. I’m just trying my best to get back."
Green said he injured the toe in the first quarter at Baltimore in Week 1 but played through the pain, including catching a 76-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter that proved to be the game winner. He left the Atlanta game, he said, because he couldn’t get the full extension running routes that he needs to be productive. Green said he’s hoping to test it out Thursday and be able to play Sunday against Tennessee.
"If it’s feeling good, then I’m going to go," said Green. "If not, we’ll take it from there. I’m not thinking about taking a week off just to rest it some more because if I’m fine, if I can do, I’m going to go."
Burfict suffered a concussion in the season opener at Baltimore and missed two days of practice last week leading up to the Atlanta game. He was allowed to participate in Friday’s practice but had to pass an independent neurologist’s exam before being allowed to play against the Falcons. The independent neurologist test is the final step in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
He left the Atlanta game late in the third quarter after getting kneed in the back of the helmet by teammate Emmanuel Lamur. Both players were attempting to avoid Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan when he slid following a 6-yard scramble. The original diagnosis announced in the press box was that Burfict had suffered a stinger but further observation revealed he suffered his second concussion in as many weeks.
With the bye coming up, this would be a good opportunity for the Bengals to coax an extra week of healing for some of their players. Lewis said when it comes time to deciding on a 46-player active roster for the game, the bye week won’t be a factor in his judgment.
"As always we’ll let the doctors and the medical people and everything weigh in on where we are health wise as we go through the week and see where we are later in the week but, no, I’m not going to say if a guy is ready to play he’s ready to play," said Lewis. "That doesn’t change. Whether he is or he is not that makes the decision and whether or not I can fit him into the 46."
The Bengals lost 10 players to the IR last season, including eight on defense, but still managed an 11-5 record and AFC North championship because of quality depth across the roster.
"If you’ve got a veteran football team then those guys understand what it takes when somebody’s out to step in and play well," said Tennessee head coach Ken Whisenhunt. "If those guys don’t play I’m under no illusion that it’s going to hamper the Cincinnati Bengals at all. They’re a good football team and the next guy up will, like I said, a veteran guy will play well for them I’m guessing."
LEWIS-HARRIS BACK: Cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris was reinstated to the 53-man roster on Wednesday from the roster exemption list. Lewis-Harris did not play in the first two games of the season after being suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Lewis-Harris rejoined the team on Monday but the Bengals had a 48-hour roster exemption for him while they evaluated his future with the team.