Bengals must overcome Henry’s death to win division
CINCINNATI — After wasting another chance to secure the AFC North title, the Cincinnati Bengals had one day to get ready for something that will be even more wrenching.
They fly to Chris Henry’s funeral.
The Bengals chartered a flight to New Orleans to attend the receiver’s funeral on Tuesday, giving players and some of the coaches a chance to console Henry’s family and one another. Henry died from injuries last Thursday in North Carolina, a day after he fell out of the back of a pickup truck during what police described as a domestic dispute with his fiancee.
Players who cried during a practice last week are braced for another tough day.
“It will be,” offensive lineman Bobbie Williams said Monday. “But you have to be strong. At some point, the tears have to stop, not just physically but on the heart, too. So I think it was well-put — there’s a little bit of closure there. But he will be with us. No. 15 will be with us.”
The Bengals (9-5) wore a decal with Henry’s No. 15 on their striped helmets Sunday and dedicated their game at San Diego to the receiver, but lost 27-24 on a last-minute field goal. It was the second straight week that they wasted a chance to secure the AFC North title.
Cincinnati needs to win one of its last two games — or have Baltimore lose one of its last two — to secure only its second division title in the last 19 years. The Bengals’ next game is Sunday at home against Kansas City (3-11).
Before they move on to that one, they have to say goodbye to a teammate who was in trouble much of his time in Cincinnati but seemed to be getting his life in order when he died under circumstances that have yet to be full explained.
Police in Charlotte, N.C., said Monday they hadn’t decided whether to charge Henry’s fiancee, Loleini Tonga, in his death. Police said she was driving a pickup truck and Henry was in the back following a dispute last Wednesday. A witness said Henry yelled to his fiancee that he would jump from the truck if she didn’t stop.
Police said Henry fell from the truck and sustained massive injuries, dying the next morning.
Despite the emotional shock, the Bengals held their own in San Diego against another team trying to earn the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.
“Definitely a tough loss,” Williams said. “Everybody knows that we wanted to go out there and pull off a victory, do it for Chris.”
And now, they’ve got another rough week ahead.
The team arranged for players, some of the coaches and front-office personnel to fly to New Orleans on Tuesday morning and fly back after the noon funeral. Some coaches will stay in Cincinnati and prepare game plans for the Kansas City game — their normal Tuesday routine.
“It’s really nice for the whole team to be able to go out there and say our last goodbyes to Chris and show our support to his family,” said defensive tackle Domata Peko, who was a close friend. “It’s sort of like our last goodbye, and we’ll be able to move on.”
It’s the second time this season that the Bengals as a group will be attending a funeral on their day off. They also went to a funeral for the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in October. Vikki Zimmer died unexpectedly at the couple’s home.
Now, it’s Henry.
“We’ll still play for him and his memory, but now you just kind of move on,” safety Chris Crocker said. “Life goes on. I thought we played inspired this past week. I think we really came together and played our butts off. We just put ourselves in some bad situations. It was a game we could have easily won.”
The coaches changed their normal Monday and Tuesday routines to get a game plan ready while the players got ready to go to the funeral.
“We have to be respectful of the situation,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “They would like to pay their respects to Chris’ family. We’ll take care of it that way, and we’ll be very respectful of that situation and their need to bring some closure to it and their ability to pay their respects. We’ll have that opportunity to do that tomorrow.”