CINCINNATI (AP) — Three cornerbacks injured, a linebacker and a running back in concussion protocol. The Bengals paid a price for their acrimonious, season-dooming loss to the Steelers on Monday night at Paul Brown Stadium.
What’s left of their roster and their playoff hopes will be on the line Sunday against a Bears team that long ago was ready for hibernation. There will be a lot of empty seats as two teams go at it, looking for one day’s respite.
“This part of the season is a challenge every year, good or bad,” Bears coach John Fox said. “People remember what you did in December. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the thick of things or not.”
When it’s all over, the Bengals (5-7) most likely will remember last Monday night as the worst indignity in another disappointing season. They blew a 17-point lead to their bitter rivals, who pulled one out — yet again — on a last-second field goal for a 23-20 victory .
Cincinnati came out of the physical game with significant players hurt, including three cornerbacks, linebacker Vontaze Burfict and running back Joe Mixon.
Burfict got a concussion and was carted off the field after receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster leveled him with a blindside block and then stood over him in a taunting pose, drawing a one-game suspension from the NFL.
Bengals safety George Iloka initially got a one-game suspension for hitting Antonio Brown in the head on a touchdown catch, but it was rescinded and reduced to a $36,464.50 fine.
Although the Bengals aren’t mathematically eliminated — a 5-7 team has reached the playoffs as a wild card in three of the past four seasons — they’re basically running on empty.
“Just win out,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “We can’t overlook this one.”
The Bears (3-9) are in a deep slide as they make only their third visit to Paul Brown Stadium. They’ve lost five in a row, their longest losing streak in a season since they dropped their last five in 2014. They dropped eight straight in 2002.
Much of their focus is on rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who is struggling in one of the NFL’s worst offenses and is 2-6 as a starter. He went 12 of 15 for only 102 yards during a 15-14 loss to the 49ers last week, but Fox praised the performance as a step forward. The Bears rank last in total offense, yards passing and passing attempts.
“People have gone through a lot worse, a lot worse seasons and come out on the other side,” said Trubisky, whose passer rating is sixth-worst in the league. “You try to look at those success stories. You can just always believe you’ll beat the odds.”
Some things to watch Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:
DALTON’S INTERCEPTION STREAK: Andy Dalton hasn’t thrown an interception since the Bengals’ 29-14 loss at Pittsburgh on Oct. 22. His streak of six games without an interception ties for second-longest in club history, as does his 176 pass attempts without getting picked off. Neil O’Donnell went seven games and 238 attempts without one in 1998.
STEELERS HANGOVER: Another season-crushing loss to the Steelers left the Bengals with only the smallest of playoff chances, and they know it. Several of them called the Monday night game a must-win situation. With one less day to prepare, it’ll be interesting to see how much enthusiasm the Bengals have left.
WHO’S AT CORNERBACK: Starters Adam “Pacman” Jones (groin) and Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion) were hurt in the loss to Pittsburgh, as was Darqueze Dennard (knee). Two safeties also are hurt, so the Bears’ woeful passing game will be facing a secondary that’s patched together.
BLOCK OUT: The Bears’ offense took another hit during the week when right guard Kyle Long was placed on injured reserve because of a shoulder injury. The three-time Pro Bowler has also dealt with a finger issue this year and was placed on IR last year because of an ankle injury.
The Bears will be missing a key blocker, which doesn’t bode well for Trubisky or Jordan Howard, who has run for 6 and 38 yards the past two games against Philadelphia and San Francisco.
WHAT HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE? The Bengals are only 3-3 at home this season, playing in front of small crowds. Their Monday night game drew 56,029 — many of them Steelers fans — leaving 10,000 empty seats. It’s likely to be worse for the final home games against the Bears and the Lions on Christmas eve.