CINCINNATI (AP) — The four-game lead in the loss column has been trimmed in half. Consecutive losses in prime time have fans wondering about the Bengals all over again. Is this the start of another second-half slide?
Cincinnati (8-2) has a chance to calm them down on Sunday.
The Bengals will play their first afternoon game at Paul Brown Stadium since Oct. 11, a return to the routine that helped them get off to the best start in franchise history. And they're facing one of the league's worst offenses in the St. Louis Rams (4-6), who have dropped three in a row.
"We're just trying to get right after these two stumbles we had," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "We had a little bit of a setback there, but we're going to use the setback to set up something good. It's not about how you fall down but about how you pick yourself back up."
Five things to watch on Sunday:
GET IT TO GIO: Giovani Bernard set a Bengals record for a running back with 128 yards receiving in the 34-31 loss at Arizona. He leads the team in yards from scrimmage with 891 and is the leading rusher with 565 yards. His style suits Cincinnati's pass-heavy offense this season, and he's likely to play a prominent role again Sunday.
"(Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson) just finds a way to get me the ball," Bernard said. "That's all you can really worry about. It doesn't matter how, whether it's a run play or pass play."
DONALD AND ATKINS: The game matches two of NFL's top defensive tackles. The Rams' Aaron Donald and the Bengals' Geno Atkins have seven sacks each, tied for league lead by interior linemen. Their ability to get pressure on the quarterback from the middle of the line makes plays break down.
WHO'S RAMS QB?: Case Keenum has been battling a concussion sustained last Sunday and was uncertain for making his second straight start. Keenum split practice time Friday with Nick Foles, who was benched two weeks ago by coach Jeff Fisher. Keenum had returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday.
O-LINE SHUFFLE: The Rams are second to last in the league in total yards, and last in yards passing. A big part of the problem is an offensive line that's been in flux because of injuries.
"It's kind of a tough adjustment," rookie running back Todd Gurley said. "You've got four guys down, so that's always going to be a tough adjustment, new guys coming in."
Only left tackle Greg Robinson and center Tim Barnes have been in place the entire season. Seventh-round pick Demetrius Rhaney gets his first career start at left guard after making his debut last week. Right guard Cody Wichmann, a sixth-rounder, made his first career start last week.
GURLEY STIFLED: Gurley had 66 yards with a 2.6-yard average last week, with a long carry of only 7 yards against the Ravens. He's the first rookie in NFL history to rush for 125 yards or more in his first four starts, and he's fourth in the league overall, but he's been limited to 200 total yards in the last three games. The coaches changed some running plays for the game against the Bengals to try to get him free.
"Coaches have been doing a great job all year, but they implemented some new runs and we'll try them out this week and see how they go," he said.