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Bengals' offense hits fade at bad time

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CINCINNATI (AP)

The Bengals' offense has fallen into a rut at a bad time.

With two starting offensive linemen hurt, Cincinnati (7-6) managed only one touchdown during a 20-19 loss to Houston that left the Bengals needing help to reach the playoffs. It's been that way lately, with their young offense struggling when it gets close to the goal line.

There's still a chance Cincinnati could reach the playoffs, given its favorable closing schedule. The Bengals play Sunday in St. Louis (2-11), then finish at home against Arizona and Baltimore. They're a game behind the New York Jets for the final wild card berth.

It may not matter if the offense keeps self-destructing.

''I think that's an area where we've got to get better,'' quarterback Andy Dalton said on Wednesday. ''There are some drives where we aren't doing anything, where we're going three-and-out. That's where we need to get better. We've got to be more consistent, get drives going and not have those quick drives and, I guess, that lull at times.''

They've had a lot of lulls all season, relying on late comebacks to overcome long scoring droughts during games.

Against the Texans, they pulled ahead 16-3 at halftime by running the ball consistently. Cedric Benson had 92 yards on 13 carries in the first half. In the second half, he ran eight times and lost a yard. Cincinnati's running game managed only eight yards on five carries in the second half.

''I think they made really good adjustments and they were a little more effective in the second half,'' Benson said on Wednesday. ''We kind of put ourselves in a hole in the second half by not being able to convert drives. We came out and started with a couple of three-and-outs and that's never good.''

The Bengals managed only 81 yards and six first downs on five possessions in the second half against one of the league's toughest defenses, settling for Mike Nugent's fourth field goal of the game. They had three punts and a fumble.

The Bengals were without their starting right tackle and right guard in the second half. Tackle Andre Smith was inactive with an injured left ankle. Guard Bobbie Williams broke his right ankle during the second quarter and is out for the season.

The Texans also made more of a commitment to stopping the run, and the Bengals couldn't counter.

''Of course, you miss Bobbie Williams, the player he is,'' left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ''When you have a guy go down that you're used to being in there and playing so well, that is different for you.

''But really in the second half there, we just had some plays where they brought a lot of heat and had an extra guy on a couple of runs.''

Their most frustrating moments have come when they're closest to a touchdown.

The Bengals had a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line and had to settle for a field goal. A false-start penalty set them back on first down and changed the dynamic.

It's been an ongoing problem: Cincinnati ranks 20th in the league in getting touchdowns once it crosses the opponents' 20-yard line. In the last three games overall, they've had four touchdowns and seven field goals.

''I think some penalties have hurt us down there too,'' Dalton said. ''Can't have `em. We've got to find a way to get into the end zone.''

Their only consistently effective play has been having Dalton throw a jump-ball to receiver A.J. Green, who stretches above the defensive backs to make a catch for a big play. He had a 51-yard catch that set up the winning field goal against Cleveland, a 43-yard catch in a loss to Pittsburgh, and a 36-yard catch against the Texans.

Benson is eager for a big game against the Rams, who rank last in the league in stopping the run. St. Louis is giving up an average of nearly 157 yards per game on the ground.

''We look forward to being able to run the ball on them consistently,'' Benson said. ''A lot of teams have been running the ball on them, I think mostly because they've had a lead on them.

''Nothing that takes away from their defense. They've got a good front. The linebackers run to the ball well. We still have a challenge ahead of us, but I think we can do some positive things in the run game.''

Notes: The Bengals allowed eight players to miss practice on Wednesday with various ailments, including Benson (back), CB Nate Clements (hamstring), S Chris Crocker (knee) and LB Manny Lawson (ankle). ... Smith was limited in practice Wednesday and could play in St. Louis. DE Carlos Dunlap (hamstring), who missed the last three games, also had limited participation.

Tagged: Bengals, Texans, Bobbie Williams, Cedric Benson, Andre Smith, Andy Dalton

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