Bengals turn focus to a tough Patriots defense

The Cincinnati Bengals have a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win at New England on Saturday, but their ticket could be punched before they even get on the plane Friday.

If the New York Jets lose or tie against the Detroit Lions on Thursday night, that will be enough to ensure a postseason berth for the Bengals (10-4).

Cincinnati won’t be satisfied with just getting in, though. The Bengals are currently the third seed in the AFC and still have an eye on the top spot with Kansas City and Buffalo ahead by one game.

New England (7-7) is on the playoff bubble for a playoff spot after a disappointing loss against Las Vegas on Sunday. An unnecessary lateral led to a turnover with the game tied and no time on the clock, and the Raiders were able to score the game-winning touchdown on that miscue.

The Patriots have “one of the best defenses in the league,” according to Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan. They are allowing just 19.2 points per game (seventh fewest), 202 passing yards (ninth fewest) and 110 rushing yards (ninth fewest), and they rank 10th in takeaway differential at plus-3.

“Looks just like a Patriots defense,” Callahan said. “They are physical. They are multiple. I think the two edge guys are playing at Pro Bowl levels, Judon and Uche, those guys are really getting after the passer. Those interior guys are really stout and strong. Linebackers play downhill. They hit you. The secondary plays with a bunch of discipline. They always keep their leverage. … It’s a well-coached defense. That’s no surprise. They are as physical and as disciplined as any defense we will play all year. I think it’s a very, very, very good unit. I think statistically it backs it up.”

Joe Burrow and the Bengals offensive line will need to be aware of New England’s dominant pass rush, which ranks third in the league with 48 sacks. Linebacker Matt Judon leads the team with 14.5 sacks, Josh Uche adds 10 sacks and defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. has 6.5 sacks.

In the back end of the defense, Jonathan Jones (three interceptions), Kyle Dugger (two interceptions) and Jack Jones (two interceptions) all have returns for touchdowns.

Game-planning against Belichick’s defense is perhaps the toughest challenge.

“You do your best to go by what’s on tape knowing he’s always going to traditionally do what he can to take away your strengths,” Callahan said. “How they do that and in what spots of the game they choose to do that will always be a surprise.”

New England’s offense has seen its share of ups and downs this year. The Patriots average 21.4 points per game (17th most), 207 yards passing (23rd most) and 112 yards rushing (19th).

Quarterback Mac Jones has thrown for 2,310 yards and just seven touchdowns with eight interceptions. Running back Rhamondre Stevenson leads the ground attack with 914 yards rushing and five touchdowns.

“He’s a big guy. He’s 230 pounds and runs hard,” Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said Tuesday of Stevenson. “They do a great job of making sure he gets X amount of touches a game. It’s cold, you’ve got to want to go tackle this guy. He’s a hard runner that’s a big guy, and that’s kind of what they’ve always had there, one way or the other. He fits right into what they want to do.”

Mac Jones spreads the ball around, but Jacobi Meyers leads the receivers with 640 yards and three touchdowns on 52 catches. DeVante Parker, still working back from a concussion, has 460 yards and one touchdown on 25 catches in 12 games. Tight end Hunter Henry has 415 yards and two touchdowns on 30 catches.

The Bengals defense has been banged up with Trey Hendrickson (wrist) and nickel cornerback Mike Hilton (knee) out last week in addition to already being without cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (knee) for the rest of the season. Sam Hubbard went down with a calf injury Sunday at Tampa Bay and is expected to be out for two to four weeks, which could mean Cincinnati is without both starting defensive ends.

Joseph Ossai, Cam Sample and others stepped up against the Bucs, and the young players will be counted on again at New England.


Bengals at Patriots, 1 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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