The Cincinnati Bengals were dealt a crushing blow last week with the news that $55 million defensive tackle Geno Atkins had been lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Although the Bengals remain atop the AFC North with a two-game lead over the Ravens, the impact of not having a disruptive interior force such as Atkins will likely have a hefty impact on their outlook.
Atkins is regarded as a linchpin, leading the defense with six sacks after topping all NFL interior linemen with 12.5 sacks last season.
"It's tough, but this team's had adversity before," cornerback Terence Newman told Cincinnati reporters. "We've just got to fight through it."
With Leon Hall, their best cornerback, already out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, defensive end Robert Geathers on injured reserve with an elbow injury, safety Taylor Mays out for the season with a shoulder injury and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga sidelined for up to a month with a knee injury and concussion, the Bengals are reeling defensively.
"We've lost, between Robert and Geno, two of the guys up front we count on for a lot," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said during a somber Friday news conference. "We came in heavy and now we'll be thin. We'll be looking at some kind of adjustment.
"I think the good thing is we have a lot of good players and guys have to rise up, step up and go. We've got to do other great things. We can score a lot of points if we need to, and we can play great defense if we need to."
The primary replacement for Atkins will be Brandon Thompson, who has 16 tackles and 1.5 sacks this season.
Although Thompson is regarded as a solid player, he's not Atkins.
"It's the next man up," Thompson said. "It's time to go."
At least electrifying rookie running back Giovani Bernard's injury wasn't serious. He just bruised his ribs during the Bengals' 22-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night.
Bernard made highlight videos with his twisting, turning 35-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, eluding tacklers and reversing field to find the end zone. The Bengals might need a lot more of those kinds of plays if the defense takes a step back without Atkins.
The last time the Ravens squared off with the Cleveland Browns, they didn't have to account for wide receiver Josh Gordon, as he was serving the final game of a two-game suspension for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy.
Now, the Ravens will have to deal with Gordon on Sunday after he wasn't traded despite heavy speculation heading into last Tuesday's NFL trading deadline.
"The difference I think in this game for us is the fact that No. 12 [Gordon] is back," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "Here's a guy who can take the top off of a defense in a hurry."
Gordon said he didn't know what to think when his name was bandied about so often in NFL circles.
Gordon was linked to multiple teams, and discussions were undoubtedly held, but the Browns' asking price was never met.
Gordon's trade value was likely affected by his status in the NFL drug program. With another strike, he's facing a one-year suspension.
"Definitely relieved," Gordon told Cleveland reporters. "I wanted to stay here. I didn't feel like uprooting myself and moving and starting all over again."
"I talked to [coach Rob Chudzinski.] He just reassured me about it, saying nothing was going to happen. He was right."
Not trading Gordon looks like a smart move considering that he ranks second on the team behind tight end Jordan Cameron (49 receptions, 596 yards, six touchdowns) with 32 catches for 582 yarsd and three touchdowns in just six games.
Gordon is averaing 18.2 yards per reception, second in the NFL.
"I'm excited Josh is part of our team," Chudzinski said. "I like the progress he's made as a player and the strides that he's made. We want him here, and he's here."
Big Ben taking a beating
Despite his size and trademark elusiveness, Roethlisberger has been sacked 26 times, which puts him on pace for a career-high 59. He was sacked only 30 times last season.
During his decade in the NFL, Roethlisberger has been sacked 370 times, the most of any quarterback in that span. Roethlisberger laughed when asked about the mounting sack total.
"I am all right so far," he said. "As long as we slow it down soon."