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Opener can’t get here fast enough for Bengals’ Gresham

The longest eight months of tight end Jermaine Gresham’s life will finally come to an end Sunday when he and his Cincinnati Bengals teammates walk into Soldier Field to play the Chicago Bears in their first meaningful football game in 246 days.

“It couldn’t get here fast enough,” Gresham said Thursday in his first comments to local media in 401 days.

While it has been a long offseason for all of the Bengals in wake of the 19-13 Wild Card loss at Houston, it has been especially difficult for Gresham, who dropped three passes in the game.

“I can still remember the play calls,” he said. “It was a rough game, and it cost my team a chance to win the game. I let a lot of people down, the organization, fans, the people that still doubt me. I gave them a reason to keep doubting me.

“It was tough,” Gresham continued. “I’ve got no one to blame but myself. It was definitely eye-opening. I did that. Every bit of that, I did. My team, they were there for me. They didn’t feel like I let them down, but I want to be held to a higher standard. I don’t want to be a guy who lets his teammates down.”

The Bengals tried to take some pressure off A.J. Green in that game by throwing to Gresham early, but the drops kept the offense from moving the ball and forced offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and quarterback Andy Dalton to answer a lot of questions about the gameplan.

While neither of them pointed fingers at Gresham, he has saddled himself with all of the blame for eight long months.

Speaking earlier in training camp, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said Gresham was being too hard on himself. But he added that Gresham seems to have used the experience as motivation.

“I think it had a huge impact on him,” Lewis said. “Jermaine has grown up so much over the last two seasons and this last offseason he continues to take another step. He really has done a great job of stepping up his leadership on this football team, doing everything that’s asked of him.

“He’s been trying to get better, get better physically,” Lewis continued. “He’s got such a big heart and is such a good kid. It’s fun to watch it come out of him the more comfortable he’s gotten.”

Despite his past aversion to interviews, Gresham certainly seemed comfortable Thursday in what ended up being an extensive 14-minute interview that touched on a number of subjects.

On the Bengals drafting another tight end, Tyler Eifert, in the first round:

“Dude is a freak. He’s that good. I’m not lying to you. He’s going to bring so much to the team that it’s big. We’re definitely a better team. I’m excited. At the end of the day we’re all here to win games. You can’t control what they do up top. They made a decision to better the team, and they’ve done that.”

On whether he thinks about his next contract after teammates Geno Atkins (five years, $55 million) and Carlos Dunlap (six years, $40) got huge extensions this offseason:

“I haven’t earned an extension. Those guys, more so Geno, but those guys definitely earned what they got and they’re very deserving. I’m not going to lie to you, I don’t deserve it. Not right now.”

When it was pointed out that he has gone to two Pro Bowls and become the first tight end in franchise history with three successive seasons of 50 or more catches:

“Man, you made it sound good. Out of everything you said, the only thing I can hear right now is that I had three dropped passes in the playoff game.”

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