CINCINNATI -- The Bengals are 3-6-1. Their only win since September is over the winless Browns.
Most teams at this point would be looking at mixing in more young players and thinking about the future. But because the AFC North is so feeble, the Bengals are obligated to play for this year.
That sounds ridiculous. But if the Bengals win Sunday at Baltimore, they’ll be a game out and the Ravens come here Jan. 1.
“That’s where we are,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “We have to move forward. We’ve got to play on the road against a division team. It’s an opportunity to get back, get corrected.”
You’ve heard that before. But the club is somehow still alive in the AFC North after sputtering through the first 10 games.
Bad got a lot worse Sunday.
“It was obviously the most significant week we’ve had in a couple of years as far as injuries,” coach Marvin Lewis said.
The locker room was actually more somber Monday than it was Sunday after the 16-12 loss to the Buffalo Bills. The news about Bernard hit hard.
“I couldn’t believe it,” running back Jeremy Hill said. “I thought there’d be a chance he’d be OK. It is what it is. It’s very unfortunate. It’s rough because he’s worked so hard. ”
The news on Green was actually good. “He’s moving good today,” Lewis said. He expects Green to return this season.
“The fight has not left this locker room,” Hill said. “We’ve got to find better technique and execute at a higher level. Once we do that, I think we have more than enough talent in this locker room to get it done.”
The Bengals have been saying the same thing since Week 2, but time is running out.
“We’ve continued to let opportunities slip away,” Lewis said. “At some point, we’ve got to go. We’ve got to win games. Or we will be out of it.”
Now, it gets more difficult.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of Green to the offense. He’s having the best year of any receiver in AFC. He has 964 receiving yards -- or roughly 200 more than the other two starting wideouts Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell have combined.
Against the Bills, the Bengals went four straight possessions without a first down. It’s hard to imagine Green not extending one of those drives. That could have been the difference in the four-point loss.
Bernard is the club’s third-down back. The club was 22nd in third-down efficiency with them healthy. He and Green account for 43 percent of the club’s offensive production.
“Everybody’s got to raise their game and make sure they’re on top of what we need to do,” tight end Tyler Eifert said. “Really study the finer details of the playbook.”
Football is not like baseball; you can’t make a late trade to add a player for the stretch run. The Bengals could bring running back/special teams ace Cedric Peerman off injured reserve to take Bernard’s spot.
But Lewis said the club won’t make the roster move fans were clamoring for. In other words, kicker Mike Nugent will be back.
“I’ve given it a lot of thought,’’ Lewis said. “We’re going to go move forward with Mike. As I said, (Sunday) night, some other things contributed to it. But we expected Mike to make those kicks. On one, we didn’t have a perfect snap.”
The other players injured Sunday -- cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, safety Shawn Williams and long snapper Clark Harris -- all could play against Baltimore, this week’s Must-Win Game.
“We’ve got to find a way to win games,” Eifert said. “We’re still in it, even though we’re not playing well and our record’s not very good. We’re still in contention for the AFC North. If we find a way to get into the playoffs, everything starts over.”
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at email@example.com.