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What we learned Thursday: Costly loss for Bengals

As if the Cincinnati Bengals' 22-20 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins wasn't disheartening enough, the AFC North leader's roster took a crushing blow on Thursday night.

Two days after placing their top defensive back on injured reserve, the Bengals might have lost All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkinsto a torn ACL.

The loss of Atkins can't be overstated. He was the engine that made coordinator Mike Zimmer's eighth-ranked defense go.

With a playing style compared to the Tasmanian Devil, Atkins has dominated interior linemen with a unique combination of leverage, power and quickness. Over the past year and a half, he's been among most valuable defensive players in the NFL.

As far as devastating injuries go, subtracting Atkins and Leon Hall from Cincinnati is every bit as deflating as the Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo casualties in New England.

To make matters worse, explosive rookie running back Giovani Bernard watched the end of the fourth quarter and overtime from the bench with a rib injury after providing the offense's biggest plays in a would-be comeback.

The Bengals entered Thursday's bout with the momentum of a swaggering heavyweight champion. They limped away with the wistful understanding that they could have been a contender.

Here's what else we learned in Thursday's game:

  1. We recently pointed out on the Around The League Podcast that the Dolphins are a much better team when Cameron Wake is healthy because he's the only difference-making talent on the roster. He was the best player on the field Thursday night, racking up three sacks including a forced fumble and the walkoff safety in overtime.
  1. Ryan Tannehill engineered a clutch field-goal drive to send the game to overtime, inspiring NFL Network's Mike Mayock to deduce that the young quarterback is "growing up a little bit." Tannehill uncorked one pinpoint 21-yard sideline throw to Brian Hartline that was reminiscent of Matthew Stafford's picture-perfect toss to Kris Durham last week.
  1. Lamar Miller's poor field vision blew a touchdown when he zigged instead of zagged, but he still impressed with his first career 100-yard game. The Dolphins racked up 142 yards on the ground by halftime against a defense that had allowed 100 rushing yards just twice this season. Although Daniel Thomas has played well of late, the offense too often stalled on plays in which he replaced Miller Thursday night.

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  1. Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap made a hustle play that NFL Media's Warren Sapp called "one of the best I've seen in 20 years by a defensive lineman" in forcing a fumble at the tail end of Miller's near touchdown.
  1. Mike Sherman's play calling came under the gun for a second straight game. Too often he left Dolphins fans scratching their heads wondering why he called run plays in passing situations and vice versa.
  1. In the middle of a Pro Bowl-caliber season, Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes had a game of highs and lows. He missed several tackles and slipped on the field at least a half-dozen times, but made up for those miscues with a game-changing pick-six of Andy Dalton at the goal line. The Dolphins secondary as a whole struggled to tackle throughout the evening.
  1. Rookie fifth-round draft pick Caleb Sturgis missed his fifth field goal in the past four games. It's a convenient time to point out how little general manager Jeff Ireland's 2013 draft class has contributed, highlighted by the choice to go with special teamer R.J. Stanford over second-rounder Jamar Taylor when Dimitri Patterson went down with a late-game injury.
  1. In the ATL'sThursday Night Preview, we pointed out Dalton's penchant for following up three-game midseason hot streaks with a lengthy cold snap. Dalton was responsible for four turnovers against the Dolphins, plummeting back to earth with a thud after garnering Player of the Month honors for October.
  1. Bernard provided one of the highlights of the season with a field-reversing 35-yard touchdown in which the Dolphins missed five tackles. Miami had 105 more rushing yards than Cincinnati at the half. Behind Bernard, the Bengals finished with six more rushing yards than the Dolphins. As we wrote back in Week 2, Bernard gives this offense a multidimensional threat that has older Bengals fans conjuring up the prime of James Brooks' career.
  1. A.J. Green's fourth consecutive 100-yard games ties Carl Pickens for the franchise. His 11 receptions were good for a career high. Green now leads the NFL in receiving yards with Calvin Johnson on bye this week.
  1. A ticky-tack holding penalty on tight end Jermaine Gresham wiped a 50-yard Marvin Jones touchdown reception off the board. That shaky call ultimately caused a 14-point swing when Grimes followed up with the pick-six in the next few plays. Dalton had boasted a 45:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the red zone prior to that throw.

We handed out our Midseason Hero Awards in the latest "Around the League" Podcast.

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