With his team going from the high of beating the defending Super Bowl champions to a road game against the 1-8 Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was asked how he would guard against a letdown.
“I don’t know if we can have a letdown. We haven’t had a buildup,’ Lewis said. “I’m still waiting for a buildup. We have nothing to let down. We haven’t gotten very far. We haven’t accomplished anything.”
As impressive as last week’s 31-13 victory against the New York Giants was, all it did was keep the Bengals’ postseason hopes flickering. Cincinnati is still just 4-5 and two games back of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts, which would be the two wildcard teams if the season ended today.
But today’s game against the struggling Chiefs marks the first of five in a row against teams with losing records. Then again, the last two times the Bengals have faced teams with losing records, they’ve come up short — falling to the then 1-3 Miami Dolphins and 0-5 Cleveland Browns in back-to-back weeks to start what would become a four-game skid.
“We can’t look past anyone,” said Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, who enters today having caught at least one touchdown pass in eight consecutive games.
If you watch (the Chiefs), you wouldn’t think they are 1-8,” Green continued. “The story of the league is that anyone can beat you at any time. We just have to be consistent on offense and do everything right.”
As bad as the results have been for Kansas City, the defense has been solid.
“They’re fighting,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said of the Chiefs, who have lost six games in a row. “They’re trying to get that bad taste out of their mouth. You can see it by the way they played on Monday — they played the Steelers tough. So we know we’re going to get their best effort.”
Dalton, who threw for a career-high four touchdown passes last week and has five TDs and only one interception since Lewis threw down the leadership challenge, will face a Kansas City defense that features five first-round picks among the 11 starters.
Defensive end Tyson Jackson, rookie nose tackle Dontari Poe, linebackers Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali and safety Eric Berry are big reasons why the Chiefs are allowing just 336.6 yards per game, which ranks 11th in the NFL. Against the pass, they rank eighth (214 ypg).
“Defensively, they have a lot of explosive players,” Lewis said. “They’re limiting people on first down, and they’re not giving up a lot of first downs. There are a lot of positives they have. This is a team that’s obviously won one football game, but they’re playing a lot better football than that.”
Kansas City also is strong, and deep, in the running game, averaging 149 yards per game, which ransk fourth in the NFL and first in the AFC. Jamaal Charles averages 4.7 yards per carry and leads the team with 734 yards, while more physical runners Shaun Draughn and Peyton Hillis have combined for 343 yards.
“(Charles) is an excellent slash runner that given a crack can make a guy miss, and he’s got enough speed that he can turn it into a large play,” Lewis said. “They’re a good group. All three backs will play.”
The two areas where the Chiefs have struggled are the passing game and turnovers. Brady Quinn replaced Matt Cassel at quarterback after five games. But Quinn suffered a concussion Oct. 28 against Oakland, resulting in Cassel starting the last two games. And he likely will get the nod today.
Cassel has completed 153 of 261 passes for 1703 yards with six touchdowns and 12 interceptions, including at least one in every game he has appeared.
Quinn threw three picks in his two starts, giving Kansas City an AFC worst 15. The team also has lost 15 fumbles for a total of 30 turnovers, which is nine more than any other team in the league. And the Chiefs’ turnover ratio of minus-20 also is by far the worst in the league. The next closest is Philadelphia at minus-11.
“We haven’t been able to be good enough because we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot, basically,” Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel siad. “The guys have been playing hard, but the thing we’ve been doing is making mistakes later in the game that impact the game. We end up losing as a result of it.”
The Bengals struggled to force turnovers early in the season, but they’ve come up with eight in their past three games.
That recent surge, plus the fact that Baltimore and Pittsburgh are dealing with some injury issues may leave an opening for the Bengals to get back into the playoff race if they can string together a few wins, starting today.
“If we take care of business, everything else will fall into place, just like it did a year ago,” Lewis said. “The teams that get hot at the end get an opportunity to keep playing, and that’s what you’ve got to do. The only way we can get hot at the end is to win games. We’ve got a seven-week season to go. Let’s be great at it.”