Bengals heading back into withering spotlight

CINCINNATI (AP) Two big goals are still out there for the Cincinnati Bengals: Shine in prime time, win in the playoffs.

The AFC North leaders have a chance to put a dent in the first one on Monday night when they host Denver (11-3), which has already clinched the AFC West. Throughout their history, the Bengals (9-4-1) have been at their worst at nighttime.

Cincinnati is 18-41 all-time in prime time, including 10-20 on Monday night. The Bengals have been beaten badly by New England and Cleveland in their two night games this season, reinforcing their reputation as a team that withers under the brightest lights.

It’s a label they’d love to eliminate.

”It’s annoying and it’s our job to make it unannoying,” safety George Iloka said on Thursday. ”If we lose this game, the talk will come back again.

”And if we want to silence the critics, so to say, we’ve got to put up or shut up. That’s how it goes. It might be annoying, but that’s on us.”

For now, that’s how they’re known.

A loss at home to San Diego in the first round of the playoffs last season cemented their reputation as a team that can’t handle the toughest pressure. Cincinnati has lost in the opening round each of the last three postseasons and hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season.

And then there are those high-profile games at night.

The Bengals went to New England determined to shake their reputation in a Sunday night game, but got pushed around throughout a 43-17 loss. Their next chance in prime time came in a Thursday night game at home against Cleveland, a 24-3 loss that only made matters worse.

Defensive end Wallace Gilberry said he has no idea why playing in prime time bothers the team.

”I guess we’re afraid of the dark. I have no idea,” he said. ”But I can tell you this: We’re going to come out Monday and we’re going to put our best foot forward.”

That would be a first. And in order for it to happen, Andy Dalton is going to have to play well.

The fourth-year quarterback is 0-3 in the playoffs and 2-6 in prime time games. During the Thursday night loss to Cleveland, he completed only 10 passes, threw three interceptions and finished with a career-low passer rating of 2.0.

A lot of it is on the quarterback.

”It’s well documented whatever the record is, 2-6. I’ve heard all kinds of stuff. Trust me, I get enough emails, letters, cards, advice, all kinds of stuff,” offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. ”I do understand what’s at stake, and I think he does, too.”

In the big games, Dalton has made the biggest mistakes, losing the ball on fumbles and interceptions. That has to change.

”We can’t make mistakes, we can’t turn the ball over, we’ve got to be sound in our execution,” Dalton said. ”And if we do that, we’ll put ourselves in a lot better position than we did in the other ones.”

Notes: Receiver A.J. Green did his conference call with media in Denver on Thursday, then was excused from practice because he was sick. … Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (Achilles tendon) and defensive end Carlos Dunlap (calf) were held out of practice as well. … Tight end Jermaine Gresham missed a victory over Cleveland on Sunday with a sore toe, but practiced fully on Thursday. So did defensive end Margus Hunt (ankle) and cornerback Terence Newman (ankle).

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