CINCINNATI (AP) — A four-interception, six-sack game usually leaves defensive coordinators thrilled.
Not this one.
Cincinnati let an 18-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter before rallying for a 37-34 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday. It was among the worst defensive performances in Bengals history — the Bucs piled up 576 yards and had touchdown passes of 60 and 72 yards .
“There’s not many times I’ve been involved in a game where we had four turnovers, you score a touchdown, have six sacks and you’re in a dogfight,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said Monday. “Usually it doesn’t happen that way.”
There’s nothing ordinary about this defense.
The Bengals (5-3) enter their bye week with one of the NFL’s best records despite having the worst defense in the league. They’re one of nine teams with at least five wins, trailing Pittsburgh by percentage points for the AFC North lead.
The defense has played a leading role in the wins, giving up a lot of yards, but scoring four touchdowns off turnovers.
A fumble return for a touchdown saved an opening win in Indianapolis. Joe Flacco’s fumble closed out a win over the Ravens the following Thursday. Touchdown returns off a fourth-quarter fumble and interception provided a win over the Dolphins.
Four interceptions of Jameis Winston — one returned for a score — put the Bengals up 34-16 late in the third quarter Sunday. Then, it all fell apart. The Bucs tied it on Ryan Fitzpatrick’s touchdown pass with 1:05 left. Randy Bullock’s 44-yard field goal on the final play won it.
“We gave up 500 yards,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “It’s a win, but it’s not a great win.”
The Bengals gave up 551 yards during a 45-10 loss in Kansas City the previous week. It’s the first time in franchise history that a Cincinnati defense has allowed 500 yards in back-to-back games. The 576 yards allowed Sunday were the fourth-most in club history.
At the season’s midpoint, the Bengals have given up the most yards and most points in the NFL. They also rank last in third-down defense. They’re on pace to give up 7,164 yards and 474 points, both of which would be club records. The Saints are the only team to allow 7,000 yards in a season — they allowed 7,042 in 2012. The 1981 Baltimore Colts hold the record for most points allowed with 533.
Injuries have played a role. The Bengals were missing cornerback Darqueze Dennard and linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil. All three are expected back at some point. Pass-rush specialist Carl Lawson suffered a season-ending injury to his right knee in the first quarter.
The long passes were particularly troubling, with receivers getting open beyond the coverage for easy scores. It’s been a recurring problem that figures in those enormous yardage totals. Antonio Brown’s 31-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left gave the Steelers a 28-21 win on Oct. 14, when Pittsburgh piled up 481 yards.
Instead of closing out games, the Bengals have given up big plays in the fourth quarter.
“When you strike up the band like that, it’s hard,” coach Marvin Lewis said Monday. “That’s supposed to be us ringing the gong, not the other team.”
PRICE WILL START
Lewis said rookie center Billy Price will regain the starting job when he’s able to play, which could come after the bye week. Price partially tore a ligament in his right foot during the second game of the season and was in a protective boot for a month. He rejoined practice on a limited basis last week.
MUM ABOUT HUE
Lewis said he hadn’t yet been in contact with Hue Jackson, who was fired as the Browns head coach on Monday. Jackson was Lewis’ offensive coordinator before taking the job in Cleveland, and the two are close. The Bengals offered Jackson an assistant coaching job after he was fired by the Raiders in 2011.
Asked whether Jackson could rejoin the Bengals in some capacity now that he’s out of a job again, Lewis said, “I’m not going to make a headline. It’s unfortunate. Anything else?”