The Cincinnati Bengals are still on top of the AFC North despite back-to-back overtime losses.
Another setback this week against the visiting Cleveland Browns would not only see their advantage all but disappear, it would also mark the first time they’ve been swept in the season series in 11 years.
Cincinnati looks to restore its recent domination of its intrastate rivalry with Cleveland on Sunday.
Article continues below ...
After a 17-6 loss in Cleveland on Sept. 29, their second consecutive defeat in the series after winning 13 of 16, the Bengals (6-4) won four straight to build a healthy divisional lead over the erratic Browns and Ravens.
But becoming the 16th team in league history to drop consecutive games in overtime has seen that edge fall to 1 1/2 games.
“We pushed things forward very positively, now we’ve dug a little bit of a hole and we’ve got to climb out and play better this week against the Browns,” coach Marvin Lewis said.
The Bengals were impressive in battling back from large deficits in both losses but couldn’t close things out. They overcame a 17-3 hole at Miami two weeks ago before Andy Dalton was sacked for a safety in overtime.
Cincinnati erased Baltimore’s 17-0 halftime advantage last week, tying the game at the end of regulation on A.J. Green’s improbable 51-yard touchdown catch. But the offense stalled in the extra period, allowing the Ravens to kick the winning field goal.
Dalton has been crucial in the comeback efforts, but he’s also again come under fire for shaky play overall with a 53.8 passer rating over the last two games. He was also inefficient against the Browns, going 23 for 42 with 206 yards and an interception.
Though Cincinnati has fallen in a rut, the schedule ahead is favorable. Owning a 4-0 record at home, the Bengals will play four of their last six in Cincinnati, and only one remaining opponent boasts a winning record.
“We know what we have in front of us,” cornerback Terence Newman said. “We just have to win some football games.”
Coming out of their bye week, the Browns (4-5) are one win shy of matching last year’s total and very much alive in a muddled AFC playoff picture.
Sweeping the Bengals for the first time since 2002 would be a big accomplishment in itself for a franchise that has lost 10-plus games in nine of the last 10 seasons.
“It’s been a while man,” nose tackle Phil Taylor said. “Everybody talking about Cleveland this, the mistake on the lake, all this other stuff, man. It’s time for a change. We’re tired of losing around here. We’ve got the talent in here to go all the way to the top, we’ve just got to get it done.”
Jason Campbell has recorded Cleveland’s highest passer ratings of the season in his first two starts with the team, coming up just short in a 23-17 loss at undefeated Kansas City before leading the Browns to a 24-18 victory over Baltimore on Nov. 3.
He suffered bruised ribs against the Ravens, but coach Rob Chudzinski said he was full speed in practice Monday. Campbell has gone 45 of 71 for 555 yards, five TDs and no interceptions in the last two games while providing more stability for an offense that had been marred by Brandon Weeden’s inconsistency and Brian Hoyer’s season-ending knee injury.
“You saw him from a leadership standpoint,” Chudzinski said. “The calmness out there, the ability in that final drive to make plays when that was crunch time and in a critical part in the game and just his presence with our younger guys. What he’s doing is really giving us a life.”
Campbell should have some potent targets to work with, given what Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron have done against the Bengals. Gordon has caught seven passes for 170 yards and a score in his last two games versus Cincinnati, while Cameron had 10 receptions for 91 yards and a TD in the season’s first meeting.
Giovani Bernard, who is second among rookie running backs with 723 scrimmage yards and has three TDs over his last two games, will face a Cleveland defense that has been vulnerable of late against dynamic backs.
The Browns surrendered a combined 363 yards to Reggie Bush, Eddie Lacy and Jamaal Charles in their last three games. Bernard totaled 75 yards on 16 touches against them earlier this season.
Green has gone over 100 receiving yards in five straight games, but Cleveland held him to 51 on seven catches in Week 4.