Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis publicly challenged quarterback Andy Dalton and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga on Wednesday to become more forceful leaders on their 3-4 team.

The move was out of character for Lewis, who prefers to handle things quietly and internally. It underscored the Bengals’ predicament approaching the season’s midpoint — it’s time to start winning or else.

“We’ve wallowed around here in mediocrity,” Lewis said. “Let’s go. That’s the thing we’ve got to do.”

Cincinnati has lost three in a row heading into home games against the Denver Broncos (4-3) and the Super Bowl champion New York Giants (6-2). The Bengals went 9-7 and got a wild-card berth last season, when Dalton was a rookie and Maualuga was in his first season at middle linebacker.

With this season starting to slip away, Lewis challenged the two young players — Maualuga is in his fourth season overall — to step up.

“We’re looking for our quarterback and our middle linebacker to take hold of our football team, and I think that’s important for us,” Lewis said. “I think both guys are such good people, that you’ve got to be a little bit of a (jerk). You do.

“Andy has a great deal of confidence, self-confidence, internal confidence, confidence in the guys around him. But at some point you step out of your skin and you go. And it’s time to go.”

Lewis’ comments weren’t off-the-cuff. He said essentially the same things during a conference call with writers in Denver, making a point to challenge the quarterback and the linebacker.

Lewis has defended Maualuga as the defense struggled this season. The linebacker said he feels he has the support of Lewis and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. He accepted Lewis’ comments as a challenge to become more vocal.

“So I guess it is my opportunity — not like it was never given to me but at the same time, time to be a jerk, time to get in the middle of that defense and start spicing things up and get everybody running around and be on the same page,” Maualuga said. “A quote that coach [Lewis] gave me before I came to the facility: ‘The rate of the pack is determined by the speed of the leader.’

“So I think the quicker I get things going, the quicker I get things riled up, the more people will buy into it and the more we can get things started and get going. I love the opportunity and the challenge, so I’ll give it everything I’ve got.”

Dalton was reluctant to assume a leadership role last season, when he was a rookie learning the offense as he went along. He left it up to other veterans to take charge, concentrating on what he had to do to learn the position.

Lewis wants Dalton to start taking a bigger role in making sure everyone on the offense is doing things correctly.

“The natural progression of it,” Dalton said. “As a rookie, you come in and you are meeting new people. Now, second year, it is your offense. It is your team. That is how I’ve got to treat it.

“He just wants some fire out there, making sure we are perfect in practice in everything we are doing. I am not too worried about what he said. It’s just he expects a lot out of us.”

The coaching staff talked to him during the bye week about taking on a more prominent role.

Dolphins QB practicing

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is practicing on a limited basis after leaving Sunday’s victory over the New York Jets in the first quarter with left knee and thigh injuries.

Tannehill wore a brace and thigh-to-ankle sleeve on his left leg for Wednesday’s workout.

He participated in passing drills, but backup Matt Moore took the snaps with the starters at the beginning of team drills, while Pat Devlin worked with the second team.

Tannehill was cleared to return to practice after undergoing an MRI exam, but the injuries may prevent him from taking part in an all-rookie showdown against the Colts’ Andrew Luck in Indianapolis on Sunday.

Garcon unlikely to play

Washington Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon and safety Brandon Meriweather are unlikely to play again this week, postponing their return until after the bye.

Garcon, a former standout at Mount Union, did not practice Wednesday. He has missed five of the last seven games with a torn toe ligament in his right foot.

Meriweather was limited in practice with sprained ligaments in his knee and has yet to play this season. Coach Shanahan said he has yet to hear from the NFL office concerning any punishment over cornerback DeAngelo Hall’s tirade toward an official. The coach doesn’t think Hall will be suspended for Sunday’s game.

Colts missing duo

Indianapolis Colts interim coach Bruce Arians says rookie tight end Coby Fleener and cornerback Vontae Davis will not play Sunday against Miami. Both were injured last weekend at Tennessee.

Davis left less than three minutes into the game with a left knee injury. Fleener left just before halftime after hurting his left shoulder.

Arians says he hopes both starters will return to Indy’s lineup in a couple of weeks.

Titans sign center

The Tennessee Titans signed veteran guard and center Kyle DeVan to boost the numbers at offensive line.

The 6-foot-2, 306-pound DeVan signed with the Titans in June and was waived in the final roster cuts. He has played 36 games with 25 starts at guard over three seasons at Indianapolis and Philadelphia. He was a four-year starter at Oregon State.

The Titans waived safety Tracy Wilson.

Texans pick up back

The Houston Texans claimed running back Jonathan Grimes off waivers and released linebacker Mister Alexander.

The 5-foot-10 Grimes was signed off the Texans’ practice squad by the New York Jets in September. The Jets waived him on Tuesday, and the Texans picked him up with Ben Tate’s status uncertain for Sunday’s game against Buffalo (3-4) because of a hamstring injury.