Now what? Fourth loss in 5 games leaves Bengals in free fall


CINCINNATI (AP) — Head coach Marvin Lewis fired the defensive coordinator and installed himself in a dual role. Bengals players talked about their trip to Baltimore as a pivotal moment in the season, almost a last-stand opportunity. They wound up getting run over.

Now what?

A 24-21 loss in Baltimore on Sunday dropped the Bengals (5-5) three games behind Pittsburgh in the loss column for the AFC North lead with only six weeks left in the season. Their fourth loss in five games put them in danger of missing out on the playoffs for the third straight season.

A shakeup of the coaching staff didn’t make enough of a difference. Cincinnati is relegated to hoping that some of its injured players return and salvage a season that’s gone from promising to unsettling.

“Everyone is frustrated,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Monday. “Everyone’s nerves are a little frayed right now. Everyone is searching.”

Lewis decided to fire defensive coordinator Teryl Austin after the Bengals gave up 500 yards for the third straight game, a first in the Super Bowl era. He took over the coordinator’s duties and hired fired Browns head coach Hue Jackson to help on the sidelines during games.

It didn’t go well in Baltimore.

The Bengals ended that streak of 500-yard games, holding the Ravens to 403, but they were on the wrong end of more defensive history.

Cincinnati allowed 265 yards rushing, the most during Lewis’ 16 seasons as head coach. They’ve given up more than 200 yards rushing in back-to-back games — the Saints ran for 244 — and three times overall this season, also the most under Lewis.

Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson ran for 117 yards in his first start, and rookie Gus Edwards ran for 115 and a touchdown. They’re the first set of rookie quarterback and running back teammates to run for at least 100 yards in the same game in NFL history.

“You give up 200 yards rushing, I’m not going to be happy with that,” Lewis said.

Lewis was satisfied with how his first game on the sideline unfolded, although he felt “somewhat a little handicapped” by having so many responsibilities.

“Hopefully it will become more and more comfortable,” Lewis said.

Part of the reason for Austin’s firing was the confusion on defense, which repeatedly had coverage breakdowns. The Bengals had a different type of challenge on Sunday with a rookie quarterback who ran a lot.

Lewis simplified the game plan, but the defense still struggled against the run.

“He made us play fast,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “He put us in situations where we didn’t have to do a whole lot of thinking.”

The Bengals were in control of the division after a 4-1 start. Now they’re trying to make up a lot of ground on the Steelers, who won at Paul Brown Stadium to start Cincinnati’s free fall.

They’re one of five teams at 5-5 in contention for the second wild card spot. The Chargers have the edge for the first wild card at 7-3. The Bengals host the Browns (3-6-1) on Sunday.

“It’s a race now, and that’s what we’re here for,” Lewis said after the game. “That’s the thing: Now it’s a race to the finish.”

A race they once led, but that’s now getting away from them.

BURFICT BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict played with a sore hip that sidelined him the previous week. He was on the field for 36 of 79 plays, showing the effects of the injury — he had only four tackles. He also was involved in an altercation with guard Marshal Yanda after a play, part of a scrum on the ground involving several players. The officials didn’t penalize anyone. Lewis said on Monday that the coaches’ film doesn’t show what happened in the altercation.