Two straight wins make a difference for year-end Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor watched his team during the second half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor watched his team during the second half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Credit: Lynne Sladky

Credit: Lynne Sladky

In the grand scheme of things, the Cincinnati Bengals’ two-game win streak at the end of a losing season would seem fairly insignificant. Even ending with a third straight victory this week won’t change their fate.

But for these Bengals, it makes a difference. They’ve lost 12 games by seven points or more the last two years, including five this season, and they tied Philadelphia in Week 3. Closing out with some results validates the work they’ve put in through another challenging year, according to players and coaches.

Cincinnati (4-10-1) will try to end on a high note Sunday, hosting the Baltimore Ravens (10-5) with a chance to keep the AFC North rival out of the playoffs. The Bengals have won 12 straight finales in a row when entering those games with a losing record.

“Just because all the work that these guys have put in -- they need that result,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “You feel differently on Sunday evening and Monday morning. You need that feeling, because that feeling is kind what gets you through the grind of the season. Ok we won, all the things we did led us to a win and so let’s go piggyback on that. In the grand scheme of things we want to win the division, we want to go the playoffs, win playoff games and play for Super Bowls. When you are a team in that position, winning two games in a row is not going to be a big deal for us. You’re going to want to win five, six games in a row to create that momentum. Right now, for where we are at as a team for this season, winning two games in a row is important. We’ve got to continue to build that momentum going into this weekend.”

Free safety Jessie Bates said learning to win in December now will help the team in the future.

The Bengals ended a five-game losing streak when they beat Pittsburgh 27-17 in Week 15 on Monday Night Football as 14.5-point underdogs, and they followed that with a 37-31 win over the Houston Texans on the road Sunday as 7.5-point underdogs.

“The thing that’s very important is that we’re playing very good football in December, which that’ll come up within these next couple years,” said Bates, who has one more year left on his rookie contract after this season. “I think in December we’re going to be playing for something. It’ll be very important for us to put together a primetime game on Monday night and then go on the road on a short week and get a road win. … We haven’t had a lot of road games won the past three years, my first three years. So, it was really nice to kind of put these two wins together. Hopefully, we can end this season the right way.”

The Ravens enter this game on a four-game winning streak and already beat the Bengals 27-3 earlier this season when they still had Joe Burrow as their quarterback. Lamar Jackson managed just 3 yards rushing against them, but the Bengals still gave up 160 yards on the ground and the offense turned the ball over three times.

Cincinnati is hoping to take lessons learned from that game and the defense’s struggles stopping Deshaun Watson and David Johnson last week in the second half at Houston will help prepare the team for a better showing against the Ravens this time.

“I don’t think whether we win or lose this next game will determine how far or how close we are, but it’ll be the right step to continue the momentum that we want to build for the next year,” Bates said. “Like I said, Baltimore not going to the playoffs, us beating them and getting them out of there, that would be pretty cool, but it would be nice to end the season on the right note with a group of guys that haven’t had a lot of success, but we continue to fight and play for each other. This team will never be the same. There won’t be the same guys in this building or anything like that. Just one more time, do it all together and we appreciate everybody coming to work everyday, not complaining and not doing stuff that other players would do in this situation. I’m excited for it, man. We’re ready to go one more time against Baltimore.”

Bates has been saying the last month that these final games would say a lot about the team and who wants to stay and keep trying to build. For him and many others, it’s been rewarding to see the team come together despite the record and slew of injuries to top players on both sides of the ball.

Last year, the Miami Dolphins won two of their last three games and carried that momentum into this season. The Dolphins now are in the thick of the playoff race. Perhaps a strong finish for the Bengals could do the same thing for them in 2021.

“I think it’s important to finish the season strong,” Taylor said. “I can envision great things in store for us in the future. We’ve got to dial in on this Sunday. We can’t look beyond that. It’s a big game for us - a divisional game. They got the better of us this year on the road, so our guys are going to be focused here this last week. We can talk beyond that after the game, but right now our focus is on the Baltimore Ravens and putting our best foot forward there.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Ravens at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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