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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert is grabbed from behind by Bears safety Chris Conte after one of Eifert’s five catches Sunday.

Eifert solid for Bengals in loss

– This is what you dream about, back in the day when the dreams are all you have. The sun fights through the haze, here along the lakefront. The clock makes a slow ascent toward 1 in the afternoon. There’s a city skyline, a cliff of grandstand, a boiling, humming cauldron of orange … And Tyler Eifert down there in the middle of it. Down there on the sideline, No. 85 in visiting white on his back, tiger-striped pumpkin of a helmet in one thick hand: This was some jaunt Eifert was looking back on Sunday afternoon, some lovely journey from Bishop Dwenger to the piercing gaze of Touchdown Jesus to, holy cow, the Shield Itself. This was no CYO Sunday, brothers and sisters and parents filling the one stand of bleachers while skinny kids with helmets perched atop their heads like bowling balls had at it. This was Sunday at Soldier Field – aka the USS Close Encounter, aka the Big Klingon Warbird – with its three decks rising to the heavens and every seat stuffed with Matt Forte jerseys and Devin Hester jerseys and, of course, the holiest of holies, Walter Payton’s No. 34. The welcome mat to the NFL, that’s what this was, albeit a 24-21 loss to Chicago. And so of course there were a few butterflies for Eifert down there Sunday afternoon. “Oh, yeah, absolutely,” Eifert agreed, after catching five balls for 47 yards in his first official pro game for the Cincinnati Bengals, a typically imperturbable performance for one of the more imperturbable athletes to come down this particular pike. “It’s different, but at the same time it’s similar. You get those butterflies always. Just being a competitor, you want to win. That’s what drives us all.” And so the sun fought through the haze and 1 p.m. arrived, and pretty soon Eifert was trotting out there to take his place as his Bengals opened their first offensive series in a two-tight end set. And on the very first snap of the season, he fired off the line, squared his route and caught a 3-yard pass from Andy at the right sideline. So much for suspense. “Any game you’re playing, to get the first play and get a catch, that helps,” Eifert said. “Especially because it was my first game.” You wouldn’t have known it. Four more times Dalton targeted him and four more times Eifert gathered it in, and, hey, it could have been just another CYO Sunday. The Bengals moved Eifert around – putting him in motion, lining him up tight, lining him up in the slot – and Eifert caught another pass for 17 yards on the Bengals’ third series and made a nice stretching grab of another for 14 yards on their fifth series. “He did a good job,” Dalton said. The Bengals, alas, did not, or at least not a good enough job. They led for a long time and dominated for even longer, but eventually a 21-10 lead evaporated and they lost to a Bears team that finally found its footing after mostly wandering aimlessly. “Yeah, we just kind of stayed stagnant there for a bit,” Eifert said. He did not, however. In his first official NFL game, he did what he always does: shrug. Buckle it up, and go play football, uncaptivated as always by the moment. “There’s so much buildup around it, being in the NFL and everything that goes into it,” he said late Sunday afternoon. “But at the end of the day, it’s the same game we’ve all played forever. You try not to let the stage be bigger than yourself. You just go out there and play and do what you know how to do, and that’s what I did.” Simple as that. And, of course, anything but.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.