CINCINNATI (AP) — Joe Mixon had one of the best games of his career in yet another Bengals loss — making it seven of their past eight, and counting. He sees no reason to slow down even as another season slips away in Cincinnati.
“Right now, we are down but we ain’t out, so that’s how I’m approaching it,” the second-year running back said. “I’m going to approach it like we’re in.”
Technically, the last-place Bengals (5-8) aren’t eliminated from playoff contention despite their third-longest losing streak in coach Marvin Lewis’ 16 seasons. They could still get the AFC North title if they win out and the Steelers, Ravens and Browns all fall apart the rest of the way.
A loss Sunday to the Raiders (3-10) would eliminate the pretense and leave Cincinnati with a third straight losing season and a lot of big questions to address in the offseason: Does Lewis stay? Who’s the next defensive coordinator? Will anything really change so long as Mike Brown runs the franchise?
By contrast, the Raiders are already in next-year mode. Following a 24-21 win over the Steelers , they fired general manager Reggie McKenzie and launched into a front-office reshuffle in preparation for coach Jon Gruden’s second season back with the Raiders.
They don’t have a general manager and they’re not sure where they’ll be playing next season before moving to Las Vegas in 2020, but all that’s for later. First, they have to finish a season in flux.
“When you get here, it’s just rainbows and butterflies because you made it to the NFL,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “All of a sudden, you get new friends every year. I think I’ve counted I’ve had like 27 different people in the locker next to me in five years. It just shows you how tough this business is.”
Some things to watch Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:
STRIKE THE BALANCE
Carr has found a comfort zone in Gruden’s offense. He began the season overly aggressive, throwing eight interceptions in the first five games. Then he got overly cautious, failing to complete a pass of more than 10 yards twice in a span of three games.
He’s finally gotten a balance.
Carr has gone a franchise-record eight straight games without an interception and has regained his deep touch. He completed nine passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield the past two games against Kansas City and Pittsburgh, equaling his total from his previous six games combined. Now he’s facing the NFL’s worst defense.
“I feel more confident in our system,” Carr said. “I feel like my reads are quicker. I feel like I can get through things and eliminate things faster. That feels better.”
RAIDERS BANGED-UP O-LINE
The Raiders come into the game with major questions on the offensive line. Starting left tackle Kelechi Osemele missed last week’s game with a toe injury. Starting right tackle Gabe Jackson is dealing with an elbow injury.
Backup Jon Feliciano was placed on injured reserve with a calf injury, leaving Chaz Green and Denver Kirkland as potential options against Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and the rest of the Bengals.
“I know that both of them are as tough as they come and if there’s a will, there’s a way,” Gruden said. “They have the will, I know that. We’ll just hope for the best.”
Paul Guenther left Cincinnati after 13 years on Lewis’ staff, including the last four as defensive coordinator, to join Gruden’s staff. He knows the Bengals’ offense, which is struggling mightily with quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green out for the season because of injuries.
Guenther also is very familiar with Jeff Driskel, who makes his third NFL start in Dalton’s place. The Bengals expect Guenther to try to disguise blitzes and coverages to throw off Driskel.
“I know whenever you’re going against a quarterback who hasn’t played much, as a defense you’re always looking forward to it,” Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey said.
TURNING MIXON LOOSE
Mixon had a career-high 26 carries for 111 yards during a 26-21 loss to the Chargers in Los Angeles. He also caught a team-high five passes, becoming the focal point of Cincinnati’s depleted offense. The Bengals plan to lean on him heavily in the final three games. The Raiders know he’s the one to stop.
“Man, he’s good,” Gruden said. “He’s a great slash. He can stop and start. He has power. He’s a good receiver. He’s a good blitz pickup guy. He’s putting it together in Cincinnati.”
WILL ANYBODY WATCH?
A small crowd is expected for the Bengals’ final home game. They’ve gone 3-4 at Paul Brown Stadium before some of the smallest crowds in its history. Their average of 51,673 is the second-smallest attendance since the 65,535-seat stadium opened in 2000.