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Andy Dalton’s injury and how to respond to change

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Quarterback Andy Dalton (14) of the Cincinnati Bengals throws against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter of the Bengals 33-20 loss at Paul Brown Stadium, December 13, 2015, Cincinnati, Ohio (Credit: Icon Sportswire/Mark Lyons)

More than in almost any other sport, things can change dramatically in the average NFL week. Sports Illustrated writer Peter King highlighted some of the things we thought we knew heading into week 14:

• “Finally, this is the Bengals’ year. And Andy Dalton’s.
• The Patriots, all beat up, are in real trouble.
• The Packers won’t figure it out this year, with the play-calling a mess, Eddie Lacy dog-housed and the receivers slumping.
• Brock Osweiler must be declared Denver’s quarterback for the rest of the year.
• The Colts had a blip against Pittsburgh, but they’re clearly the best team in a bad AFC South.
•The Saints showed how vulnerable Carolina was in the secondary.
• The Ravens can’t get any worse.
• Here come the Bills.
• Here come the Bucs.
• Atlanta’s done.”

But then the actual games were played and this is what we really know now:

• Andy Dalton might not play again this season, and the Bengals look rattled.
• Gronk is back, and the Patriots looked dominant again.
• Mike McCarthy is back calling the plays, Eddie Lacy had a good game, and the Pack look like a real contender.
• Osweiler had a mediocre game, and now fans aren’t sure who they want as QB.
• The Colts were destroyed by the lowly Jaguars 51-18.
• The Carolina defense shut out the Atlanta duo of Matt Ryan-Julio Jones 38-0
•Things can always get worse! The Seahawks defeated the hapless Ravens 35-6
• Not so fast, LeSean McCoy!
• Umm, what happened to Jameis Winston?
• Well, at least we still know Atlanta’s done!

Things change quickly in the NFL. All it takes is one injury, one botched play, or one change in personnel to completely alter the dynamics of an entire season. Just think about how different Bengals fans feel today as opposed to last week. Last week they looked like a sure bet to go deep into the playoffs, perhaps even challenging the Patriots for a bid in the Super Bowl. But after losing star quarterback Andy Dalton to a broken thumb, their optimism has turned to doubt.

One of the first disciplines to go whenever drastic change happens is the discipline of focus. It’s easy to focus when things are predictable and going according to plan. But when chaos inserts itself into the equation, it becomes hard to focus amidst the wave of questions that appear.

But how do you stay consistent when at any moment your world could be turned upside down? Gregg Popovich, legendary coach of the San Antonio Spurs, has this to say: “Any successful franchise whether it’s sports, business, or whatever it might be, it’s about people. The people that you bring in. The character that you build. The principals you live by in good times and in bad times.”

Just like in any other successful organization, sports is all about the people on the team. Can they stay together as a group and continue to press on towards their ultimate goal? We love watching teams and athletes that have overcome tremendous difficulty, both individually and as a group, succeed in the face of adversity. It’s one of the things that makes sports so compelling.

The Bengals, along with a host of other NFL teams, find themselves needing to focus on their ultimate goal in the midst of a drastic change. They can either become prisoners of their circumstance, or choose to focus on how they can work together to accomplish their goals.

Seasons of life bring new and different challenges, but God has equipped us with the necessary tools for fighting through whatever difficulty may be presenting itself as an obstacle in our way. You can either become a prisoner of your circumstances, or you can learn from your new reality in how to more fully trust in God’s providence and provision.

One of the main ways challenges and sudden changes can help us grow is that they make it imperative that we rely on others for strength and support, wisdom and guidance. New Bengals quarterback A.J. McCarron will have to rely on the strength of his more experienced teammates as he seeks to be the best quarterback he can be for the team. In the same way, challenges often allow us the opportunity to see our need for others. We are not islands; we do not captain our ships alone.

The writer of Hebrews has it right: “for you have need of endurance…” (10:36) But how do we continue to press on when new challenges and circumstances come our way? “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” (12:2)