Bengals try to return focus to field
CINCINNATI – One day after the death of teammate Chris Henry, the Cincinnati Bengals tried to focus on the field as they prepared for a key game at San Diego.
Meanwhile, police in Charlotte, N.C., continued their investigation Friday after they said Henry died of injuries from falling out of the back of a moving pickup truck during a domestic dispute with his fiancee.
Music was playing in the Bengals’ locker room as players packed up to leave for California. The team also held a 90-minute afternoon practice.
With a win over the 10-3 Chargers, the Bengals (9-4) will clinch the AFC North title and grab the inside track for the second seed in the conference playoffs.
It’s the second time the team has had to deal with a death this season. Vikki Zimmer, the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, died unexpectedly at the couple’s home in October. Three days later, Zimmer coached the defense in a 17-14 win in Baltimore that put the Bengals in control of the AFC North.
Offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth, one of the team captains, said it was good for the team to be together to deal with Henry’s death. The team held its holiday gathering as scheduled on Thursday.
“We had enough motivation already and now it’s added with the guys trying to live up to his legacy,” Whitworth said. “Things go on. We went on with it with Coach Zimmer. It hurts but you have a job as a man and professional and you have to move forward.”
In Charlotte, police have yet to file charges or clear his fiancee, Loleini Tonga, of wrongdoing. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police spokeswoman Rosalyn Harrington confirmed that his fiancee stopped after Henry “came out of the back” of the pickup truck she was driving on the curvy stretch of a residential road near the Tonga family home.
“She pulled the vehicle over to get out and assist,” Harrington said late Friday.
One 911 caller said she saw a shirtless man with a cast on his arm in the bed of a yellow pickup “beating on the back of this truck window.” A later 911 caller told dispatchers he saw an unresponsive man laying in the road.
Harrington said there was “no new info” in the case on Friday. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner determined Henry died of blunt-force trauma to the head.
Henry, a talented receiver who had a history of off-field problems, was away from the team after being placed on injured reserve last month with a broken forearm.
Greg Guthrie, general manager of the Alario Center in Westwego, La., confirmed Friday that a service for Henry, a native of Belle Chasse, La., is tentatively scheduled to be held there Tuesday.
The Bengals are expected to attend as a team after playing in San Diego.
“It really wouldn’t matter where we were at, we’re going to pull it together as a family,” offensive guard Bobbie Williams said. “Coaches and players included. We’re going to ball that fist up and try to deliver a good, solid punch to whoever. If we were here or on the road it doesn’t matter. We’re going to be that unit.”
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