The Cincinnati Bengals ran into a buzz saw named Tom Brady last Sunday night during an ugly loss to the New England Patriots. The 43-17 blowout raised questions about the Bengals' ability to defend elite offenses without injured Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the lineup.
The Patriots piled up 505 yards of total offense against a Cincinnati defense that entered last week having allowed the fewest points in the NFL.
In their first loss of the season, the Bengals (3-1) struggled mightily to contain Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright, who had a combined 11 catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
Now the Bengals must bounce back Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium against the Carolina Panthers. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen already has 27 receptions for 326 yards and four touchdowns this season.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis set the tone for the week, acknowledging that it was a humbling setback for the AFC North leaders.
"You've been the one hitting in the mouth, and now you've been hit," Lewis told Cincinnati reporters. "It's time to respond. There's things to learn from and things to build upon in a lot of ways. More importantly, a lot of things to correct, and make sure that we all just stay calm and play through the moment."
The Bengals play four of their next five games at home, where they've won 11 straight, and Burfict is expected to return from a concussion Sunday, which should give the defense a nasty streak it sorely missed against New England.
All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green, however, won't play Sunday after aggravating a right toe injury in practice.
With wide receiver Marvin Jones and tight end Tyler Eifert also out with injuries, the Bengals will have to rely on wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, tight end Jermaine Gresham and running back Giovani Bernard.
"It's something everybody deals with," Lewis said of the injuries. "We are dealing with this; it's the same thing. The sky didn't fall."
Manziel feels Gurley's pain
A year ago, the NCAA investigated then-Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel for allegedly selling autographs, an NCAA violation. With no evidence of the claims, Manziel was suspended for only the first half of the Aggies' season opener.
On Thursday, Georgia star running back Todd Gurley was suspended indefinitely pending an investigation into the same charges.
Manziel, now the backup quarterback for the Cleveland Browns (2-2), sympathized Friday with Gurley, tweeting: "#FreeGurley."
"I obviously know what Todd's going through right now and I feel for him,'' Manziel told Cleveland reporters. "He's built somewhat of a brand for himself, and I feel like he should be able to capitalize off it."
Gurley, a Heisman Trophy candidate, allegedly was paid $400 to sign 80 pieces of memorabilia, according to Sports Illustrated.
"Obviously, I don't know every single [detail] of the situation that he's in, but at the same time, I think he's done a great job and worked extremely hard to make a name for himself on the football field and he has an image and he has a likeness," Manziel said. "He has obviously a want and a need for his autograph, and I feel that if he wants, he should be able to have a system that allows him to go out and capitalize from that.'"
Steelers exploiting defenses
The Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2) rank fourth in the NFL in total offense, averaging 404 yards per game. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has passed for 1,365 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions this season.
He has gotten strong contributions from wide receiver Antonio Brown (34 catches, 511 yards and five touchdowns) and running back Le'Veon Bell (460 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown and 24 catches for 228 receiving yards).
The Steelers have capitalized against some of the league's lowest-ranked defenses, including the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Browns are allowing 422 yards per game, 31st overall in total defense.
During their first meeting with the Browns, a 30-27 win in their season opener, the Steelers had 490 yards of total offense, including 364 yards by halftime as they built a 27-3 lead.
"Whoever is out there, I just have to be at my best," Brown told Pittsburgh reporters. "Regardless of who the opponent is, I just have to sharpen my tools and make sure I'm on my game."