CINCINNATI (AP) — Left tackle Andrew Whitworth hardly remembers what it’s like to play at home.
It’s been nearly a month since the Cincinnati Bengals (3-5-1) had a game at Paul Brown Stadium. They beat the Cleveland Browns 31-17 on Oct. 23. They’ve been traveling since, with little to show for it other than their frequent flier miles.
Four of their past five games have been on the road, and they haven’t done well, going 1-3-1. They lost at Dallas and New England, beat the winless Browns at home, tied Washington in London, went on their bye, and then lost at the Giants 21-20 on Monday night.
It’s kind of a blur.
“It’s the weirdest thing,” said Whitworth, an 11-year veteran. “I know that we have played at home, but I don’t really feel like we have. I can’t even hardly recall the home games. Every week I feel like I’m packing my bags to go somewhere. But it’s going to be nice to be at home.”
The endless airports left them not only weary, but fading. The defending AFC North champions are in third place with no margin for error as they host the Buffalo Bills (4-5), another team that’s fallen apart in the past few weeks and can’t afford to lose any more games, either.
The Bills dropped their last three games heading into their bye last week. They’re scoring plenty of points — at least 25 in each of the past five games — but their defense has shown a penchant for making big plays and giving them up. Buffalo has an NFL-high 30 sacks, and also has given up seven passes of 50 yards or longer.
The Bengals are trying to reach the playoffs for the sixth straight season and finally win a game — their streak of 25 years without a postseason victory is the sixth-longest in NFL history. The Bills haven’t even reached the playoffs for 16 years, the longest active streak in the league.
The loser on Sunday will face long postseason odds.
“We understand the circumstances,” Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. “We understand that it’s a must win.”
Some things to watch on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:
GET THE QB: While the Bills have been good at getting pressure on passers, the Bengals have struggled to protect Andy Dalton. He’s been sacked 28 times, the third-highest total in the league. The Bengals are on track to allow 50 sacks for only the seventh time in their history. During their final series against the Giants on Monday, the line got overwhelmed and Dalton took back-to-back sacks to end the Bengals’ final chance. Buffalo’s penchant for giving up big pass plays has been an issue, and coach Rex Ryan was contemplating changes at cornerback for the game in Cincinnati.
RUN, RUN, RUN: The Bills are second to Dallas with 155 yards rushing per game, and they lead the league with 5.28 yards per carry. They have 43 runs of more than 10 yards, also a league high. And it’s a versatile attack — Taylor leads the league in rushing by a quarterback with 362 yards. By contrast, the Bengals have struggled to stop the run. Dallas ran all over them in the Cowboys’ 28-14 win earlier this season, and the Giants ran five straight plays to get a pair of first downs and drain the clock on Monday night.
TAYLOR’S ENCORE: Taylor is coming off his best all-around game and looking to develop consistency. He threw for 298 yards — his second-highest total in two seasons — and a touchdown in the loss at Seattle. He’s 12-11 as a starter, with only two wins coming when Buffalo was tied or trailing in the fourth quarter. Taylor is 1-11 when Buffalo trails by four or more points at any time in a game.
FOURTH-QUARTER BLUES: Dalton ranks 21st in fourth-quarter passer rating at 85.2. He’s thrown only three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, all of them when the opponent went soft on defense while finishing off a game with a lead. Cincinnati has scored 40 points in the fourth quarter — its fewest in any quarter — and has been held to three points or fewer in six of its nine games.
HOME FIELD: While the Bengals are happy to be home, it’s not been much of an advantage lately. They’re 4-4 at Paul Brown since the middle of last season, including a playoff loss to Pittsburgh.