National Football League
Bengals hope to break out vs. lowly Browns
National Football League

Bengals hope to break out vs. lowly Browns

Updated Mar. 4, 2020 1:59 p.m. ET

The Cleveland Browns are the lone remaining winless team in the NFL.

The Cincinnati Bengals are part of a different list -- considered one of the league's biggest underachievers.

The Bengals (2-4) have dropped four of their past five games and attempt to break out of their doldrums when they host the lowly Browns (0-6) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Cincinnati expects to be part of the postseason for the sixth consecutive season but the slow start threatens to halt that streak.


The Bengals edged the New York Jets in their opener before things disintegrated. Three of Cincinnati's losses have been by 12 or more points, including last Sunday's 35-17 setback against the New England Patriots.

"We're kind of behind right now, with the way this season has gone, and we've got to get it back on track," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "You can't try to do too much, you've just got to play your game and do that to the best of your ability. You can't try to do more than you need to. That's the biggest thing: you can't press."

Bengals coach Sherman Lewis has been preaching that there's no reason to panic. He outlined to his squad to just stay the course and, well, play better.

"We have to play good fundamental football," Lewis said. "We have to out-play the other team, out-execute them, out-score them and not have negative plays. Our margin for error has not been very good thus far this season so we have to create our breaks."

First-year Cleveland coach Hue Jackson, a close friend of Lewis who spent the past four seasons on Cincinnati's coaching staff, can relate to a lack of breaks.

The Browns are on their third quarterback in rookie Cody Kessler after losing Robert Griffin III (shoulder) and Josh McCown (collarbone) to injuries. Cleveland suffered a big defensive loss when free safety Jordan Poyer suffered a lacerated kidney in last Sunday's 28-26 loss to Tennessee.

"He was playing well," Jackson said of Poyer. "It's is a blow for us because he is one of our better players."

Kessler enjoyed a strong performance in the loss to the Titans by passing for 336 yards and two touchdowns.

The former USC standout was a third-round draft pick due to questions about his arm strength. He said he isn't concerned with what the critics say but is fixated on how to help end Cleveland's longstanding losing ways -- which includes nine consecutive losses and 16 of 17 dating back to October of last season.

"I take it very personal, as do a lot of guys in this locker room," Kessler said of the losses. "It just makes you compete that much harder and keep working harder because we have been really close in some of these games.

"We just have to put together a full game and I have to put together a full game and a complete game and just continue to keep working. Obviously, it will get to you, but you can't let it knock you down. You can't let it knock you back. You have to stay positive and keep moving forward."

The Browns are averaging 110.7 yards per game on the ground but have struggled the past two games -- averaging just 33.5 yards in losses to the Titans and New England Patriots.

Cincinnati ranks ninth in defending the run (89.8) and dodged a bullet when controversial linebacker Vontaze Burfict was fined $75,000 on Wednesday but didn't draw a suspension for an incident against New England last Sunday.

Burfict was disciplined for delivering an apparent stomp to Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount during a pileup of players. Burfict reportedly is appealing the fine and Lewis is supporting him.

"We were not in the wrong here, in my opinion," Lewis said. "And it's unfortunate. That's what I have told and stood on and will continue to."

Burfict missed the first three games of this season due to a suspension for his repeated violations of safety rules, including his actions during last season's playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Defensive end Carlos Dunlap (four sacks) has played well for the Bengals, who will look to silence a Cleveland offense averaging 18.8 points, tied for 26th in the NFL.

Cincinnati's offense is faring worse at 18.2 points per game (29th) despite Dalton ranking third in the NFL with 1,757 passing yards and receiver A.J. Green corralling an NFL-best 42 catches.

The Bengals could have standout tight end Tyler Eifert at their disposal for the first this season. Eifert, who caught 13 touchdown passes last season, returned to practice on Wednesday after missing the first six games due to ankle and back injuries.


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