The Cincinnati Bengals continue to search for answers why they can’t break out of the funk that has them tumbling toward irrelevance with six losses in the last seven games.
Youth and injuries certainly are a factor but not an excuse. Others in the league have the same issues and find ways to overcome them.
Alex Erickson describes it like a snowball effect – something the Bengals (5-7) have to stop before they reach the bottom of the hill.
“Any time you’re fighting for your lives, every little thing is magnified and it’s hard to overcome them when you’re not executing the way you want to,” Erickson said after Sunday’s 24-10 loss to the Denver Broncos . “Everything kind of gets multiplied and every little mistake is bigger and bigger. Unfortunately, we had too much against us and we weren’t able to overcome it.”
Frustration is mounting in Cincinnati’s locker room as a team that began the season 4-1 dropped further out of the playoff picture with a fourth straight loss.
The Bengals have sent 14 players to injured reserve, and only right tackle Bobby Hart has played every snap. Very few players haven’t been on the injury report at some point this season, and the injuries have meant a lot of lineup changes and new players, which often leads to more mistakes, more struggles.
Running back Joe Mixon came about as close as anyone last week to saying some of the players aren’t trying hard enough, but backtracked and clarified it’s just new guys playing timid. He’s one of the most visibly passionate players on the team and vows to keep doing what he can to keep his teammates’ spirits up but said he can’t be the only one.
“I try to do whatever I can to bring my teammates along to the level of play I feel we can play at,” Mixon said. “It’s been frustrating because we haven’t as a whole, 11 people on offense, but at the same time, a lot of people look at me as the spark, so I take it upon myself and I take it personally that I gotta go make that play and I’ve got to get my team going. When I do that, everybody feeds off it, whether it’s offense or defense. No matter how tough the game is going, I’m never going to quit. I don’t care how much we are down, I don’t care how much we’re up, I’m still going to do the same thing start to finish.
“I play off a lot of emotion. A lot of players do. You’ve got to learn how to channel it, you’ve got to learn how to work through it. I love the game of football, and if you don’t love the game of football, you shouldn’t be playing. I’m different than a lot of people, but I do nothing but to hope and put my team in the best position to win and just hope they follow up. I can only do so much. I just try to do whatever I can to go through the game and do whatever I can so we can win.”
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick called the way the team is playing “unacceptable.” The players owe it to the organization and the city of Cincinnati to keep trying to turn things around.
The Bengals have to win their last four games to finish above .500. They were 6-9-1 in 2016 and 7-9 last year.
“That’s what drives me,” Kirkpatrick said of wanting to finish strong. “I don’t care about the outcome. I don’t care about our record. They give me the opportunity to play football and help my family and change my life, so I can’t help but go out every week in and week out and give my all. If I’m not up, be supportive, be in the meeting room, seeing things I see and when I’m on the field being an engine, being a battery, trying to keep guys under control.”
Players see the negative comments from fans on social media. They notice the empty seats in the stands (Sunday’s crowd was the worst attendance since 2011) and how sometimes more fans of the opposing team show up than those wearing Orange and Black.
Erickson said the Bengals just have to block those things out and keep working.
“It gets to the point it doesn’t matter what your record is, we’re all professionals, we’re all competitors, so we just have to go out and do our jobs and let our play speak for itself,” Erickson said. “We can’t worry about all the other stuff. We just have to focus on what we can control.”