CINCINNATI (AP) — In six days, the Bengals went from hopeful to hapless.
A loss to the Steelers crushed their playoff chances.
A drubbing by the Bears left them at their lowest point in years and got fans talking about who will be the next head coach.
There are three games left. How low will they go?
A 33-7 loss to the Bears on Sunday was their worst home defeat since 2008. Players acknowledged they lacked energy, allowing the game to get away quickly.
The coaching staff addressed it during team meetings on Monday.
“As I told them, sometimes they’ve got to make their own music,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “You’ve got to make some plays that turn the music up, turn the dial up, and that gets everybody going.”
Although the Bengals (5-8) are out of contention, they can help decide who gets into the playoffs. They have games at Minnesota (10-3) against former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, at home against Detroit (7-6), and at the Ravens (7-6), who opened the season with a 20-0 victory at Paul Brown Stadium.
“We play three playoff teams,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “We have an opportunity to spoil things. The first one is against Mike Zimmer. I want to put my best foot forward against him. He was a coach here, and he got my career started here.
“It will be fun to play to get after a team that’s playing good football now, so getting a win against them will be a pride thing.”
A big problem Sunday was a defense gutted by injuries. Both starting cornerbacks and two starting linebackers were sidelined, and several others were limited by injuries. The Bears took full advantage, rolling to their most lopsided victory in five years.
“When you’re an NFL player, you’ve got to be ready to play every Sunday,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “If you don’t play your top game, you’ll get beat like you did Sunday.”
A lot of the attention in the last three weeks will be on Lewis, who is in the final year of his contract. He arrived in 2003 and made a woeful franchise better, but hasn’t been able to win a playoff game in his 15 seasons.
The Bengals set a club record with five straight playoff appearances from 2011-15, losing in the first round each season.
Lewis is 0-7 in the postseason, an NFL record for coaching futility.
The Bengals still haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest such streak in NFL history.
Lewis kept getting contract extensions until last year, when he was coming off a six-win season.
Owner Mike Brown decided to see how the final year on Lewis’ contract played out. Lewis knew he’d have to produce or his stay in Cincinnati would end after a franchise-record 15 seasons.
A 23-30 loss to the Steelers on Monday night included yet another major meltdown against their biggest rival — the Bengals blew a 17-point lead — and dropped Lewis to 8-24 against Pittsburgh, including two home losses in the playoffs.
Brown meets with the head coach at the end of each season. Following a game in Baltimore on Dec. 31, they’ll get together again and decide where to go from here.
The Bengals were so thin at cornerback because of injuries that they made plans to use some of their offensive players — including rookie receiver John Ross — in coverage should anyone else get hurt. A shoulder injury landed Ross on injured reserve during the week, so he wasn’t an option.
Receiver A.J. Green wound up on the field defending against the Bears’ desperation pass into the end zone before halftime.
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins was limited in practice during the week by a toe injury and was on the field for only 12 plays.
“He tried to go and he just wasn’t effective with it,” Guenther said.