LONDON (AP) — To get back to .500 and in contention for the AFC North lead, the Cincinnati Bengals need to win the strangest “home” game in their history, 3,955 miles (6,365 kilometers) from Paul Brown Stadium.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis says jet lag from Friday’s red-eye flight to London won’t be an issue when Cincinnati (3-4) takes on the Washington Redskins (4-3) at Wembley Stadium in London. He says the key question is whether the Bengals, red hot this time a year ago, can beat a team with a winning record for the first time this season. He counseled his players to hit the hay as soon as possible on the eight-hour flight.
“The focus was on … the ability to shut down and go to sleep after dinner on the plane, and wake up and it’s Friday morning,” Lewis said after the Bengals’ first groggy training session on a rugby field in north London.
That advice was easier said than done for left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals’ biggest player at 6 foot 7 and 330 pounds. Before boarding Thursday night’s flight, he’d just been cleared to play after suffering a concussion last Sunday in the Bengals’ 31-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns — and couldn’t get his mind or body into the idea of early shuteye. A first-class fully reclining seat, it turns out, doesn’t fit a Whitworth.
“They were made for people a little shorter than me. I’d have to bend into a fetal position to fit. I’d have to fly on the NBA plane probably to be comfortable,” Whitworth said. “I manned it up and am still working on Wednesday night’s sleep. I’m not an on-command sleeper. I’ve got four little kids, so I’m not used to sleeping a whole lot anyways.”
The Bengals have reached the playoffs each of the last five seasons but lost in the first round each time, the worst such streak in NFL history. Despite returning the core of their team, they’ve struggled to match their 2015 start, which saw them reach 8-0 and cruise to the AFC North championship.
The team has planned a sightseeing mission to Tower Bridge on the River Thames on Friday night, when family and friends join players for a meal with a spectacular view. That event, too, is designed to ensure players don’t nod off too soon.
“I’ve got no idea what time it is. The whole day’s been a blur,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “But I’m sure the Redskins are feeling exactly the same way. Both sides need to wake up for Sunday.”
HEALTHY BENGALS: Cincinnati enters Sunday’s game at full strength on both sides of the ball. The biggest change could be felt in the passing game, where tight end Tyler Eifert is expected to be featured after seeing limited action last week versus Cleveland in his return from offseason ankle surgery. Eifert has been a favored goal-line target of quarterback Andy Dalton, catching a team-record 13 touchdowns last year.
Eifert’s return could boost a passing attack that has struggled to find the end zone despite boasting top-flight targets in the conference’s receiving yardage leader, A.J. Green, and New England import Brandon LaFell .
“Obviously Tyler is such a big part of our offense, and having him back and ready to go is big for us, his ability to make plays,” Dalton said. “If he’s the guy this week, it’d be great.”
Washington’s roster, by contrast, looks like a MASH unit, with key starters listed as questionable going into their own trans-Atlantic flight. Among those Redskins nursing injuries and uncertain to play Sunday are running back Matt Jones, cornerback Josh Gordon and left tackle Trent Williams.
NOTES: The Bengals held their first training session on English soil without pads or helmets on the artificial turf field at Saracens Rugby Football Club in north London. Several dozen fans and curiosity-seekers, mostly local children who have the week off from school, cheered from the stands as the team’s punting unit worked out under dull gray skies. … The majority of Bengals starters got to lie down in first-class seats on their chartered Virgin flight from Cincinnati as team officials advised everyone to sleep as much as possible while losing five hours on the clock. But those further down the depth chart had to make do with snoozing across three seats in coach.