Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham (84) is congratulated by quarterback Andy Dalton (14) after Gresham's 2-yard touchdown reception during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos on
AP Photo
December 24, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) Andy Dalton was sent home with the flu on Wednesday, one of four Cincinnati Bengals who missed a rain-soaked practice as they prepared to play the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC North title.

The Bengals (10-4-1) expect Dalton to be fully recovered by the time they go to Pittsburgh (10-5) for a Sunday night game that will decide the championship and home-field advantage for the first round of the playoffs. The loser gets a wild card berth.

''It's always a big deal when you don't have your quarterback at practice,'' offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. ''Again, it's also not good if the guy's sick and can't practice. So we'll see where he's at tomorrow and go from there.''

A flu outbreak has closed schools in the region this month. Several Bengals have missed practice during the last two weeks, including receiver A.J. Green. Cornerback Terence Newman got sick during a 37-28 win over Denver on Monday night and went to the sideline in the second half.

Dalton, Newman, tight end Jermaine Gresham and safety Reggie Nelson were sick on Wednesday and missed a practice held in a driving rain at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals are the most northern NFL team without a covered practice field.

Green was in sweats and a jacket as he sat out with a bruised right upper arm, injured during the Bengals' second series on Monday night. Green was in and out of the game the rest of the way and didn't have a catch for only the second time in his career.

Coach Marvin Lewis was optimistic on Wednesday that Green would be available to play. He had 11 catches for a season high 224 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown, during the Steelers' 42-21 win at Paul Brown Stadium on Dec. 7.

Green couldn't reach with the arm when he returned to the game on Monday night because of the pain.

''It feels better,'' he said on Wednesday. ''It's a real deep bruise.''

Green was voted to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time even though he has missed a significant part of the season. He was inactive for three games and missed most of another with an injured right toe.

''It was definitely the most challenging (season) because you've missed so many games and you have to work back into the groove,'' said Green, who ranks 24th in the NFL with 959 yards receiving and 44th with 61 catches. ''You don't have time to get all the timing you need. You get thrown back into the fire.''

The Bengals are morphing into a run-based offense as the season winds down. After getting pushed around by the Steelers, they've rushed for more than 200 yards during wins over the Browns and the Broncos.

Rookie Jeremy Hill ran for 147 yards, including an 85-yard touchdown, against Denver. He leads NFL rookies with 1,024 yards and nine touchdowns.

''Jeremy's been a great lift in that way and provided some confidence to us running the football,'' left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ''I think that throughout this year, that's something that's developed into our identity. Probably teams that played us early in the season haven't seen that side of us. And I think that's a positive.''

The Bengals played a low-risk game on offense Monday night, running it 37 times and throwing it 26. Fourteen of Dalton's 17 completions went to a running back or a tight end.

''I don't think we want to look like that,'' Hill said. ''Obviously, we want to get our vertical passing game going, especially since we have the receivers to do that stuff.''

Notes: Defensive end Wallace Gilberry, who suffered a hamstring injury on Monday, also sat out practice. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard (shin) and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring) were limited. ... Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was named the AFC's Defensive Player of the Week for his two fourth-quarter interceptions of Peyton Manning. He came in when Newman left because of his illness.


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