This season has been the first ever that every NFL team will play a game on Thursday Night Football. The Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles take their turn this week, for a game that is much more important for the AFC North side opposed to the NFC East one. After losing late in the fourth quarter to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, the Bengals enter this game having missed an opportunity to take a one game lead on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Because the Steelers lost to the San Diego Chargers ahead of the Bengals on Sunday, the Bengals do still somewhat control their destiny. However a victory over the Cowboys would have allowed them to completely control their fate. Couple that with the fact they entered the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game with a nine point lead but still lost, and the Bengals’ roster can’t be feeling too good about itself right now. With a very short week and a trip to Philadelphia on the cards, the Bengals have no time to wallow in self pity.
Winning Thursday Night Football games isn’t about who is the better team, the quality of football has been terrible more often than not this year. Instead, it is often the team who is best prepared and who has the better leadership who can carve out a victory in a relatively difficult circumstance. The Bengals need their coaching staff to keep their players focused, while the leaders in the locker-room have to set the example for others to follow as early as Sunday night. Furthermore, the Bengals have even less time to prepare than the Eagles because they must also travel to Philadelphia. Excluding Thanksgiving, away teams on Thursday night this year have a record of 4-8. Even including the Thanksgiving day games, when there were at least two overmatched home teams, the Thursday night record for away teams is at best 7-8 at this point.
The Bengals won’t worry about their coaching staff’s ability to craft a game plan for the Eagles, but he did speak previously this year about the leadership of his football team and how it needed to improve. A winning streak followed those comments, so most fans presumed that the two players, Andy Dalton and Rey Maualuga, who were called out became better leaders. However, it is easy to be a leader when the team is winning and things are going well. Real leadership is tested when adversity strikes. The Bengals are facing plenty of adversity entering Philadelphia as their energy will have been sapped by that disappointing loss to the Cowboys.
In essence, instead of beating the Eagles this week, the Bengals need to avoid beating themselves. They need to show the ability to rebound from a loss and not be the streaky team that they have been all season long.