Can battered Bengals shake off Steelers hangover against Bears?

Posted at 1:00 AM, Dec 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-10 08:56:53-05

CINCINNATI (AP) — A linebacker, a running back and a cornerback in concussion protocol. Two more cornerbacks injured. The Bengals paid a price for their acrimonious, season-dooming loss to the Steelers on Monday night at Paul Brown Stadium.

Cincinnati ruled out six starters - five on defense -  for Sunday's home game. What's left of their roster and their playoff hopes will be on the line against a Chicago Bears team that has  already gone into hibernation. There will be a lot of empty seats as two teams go at it, looking for one day's respite.

Although the Bengals aren't mathematically eliminated — a 5-7 team has reached the playoffs as a wild card in three of the past four seasons — they're basically running on empty.

"Just win out," never-give-up defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. "We can't overlook this one."

The 3-9 Bears are on a five-game losing streak and looking ahead to next year.

"This part of the season is a challenge every year, good or bad," Bears coach John Fox said. "People remember what you did in December. It doesn't matter if you're in the thick of things or not."

When it's all over, the Bengals most likely will remember last Monday night as the worst indignity in another disappointing season. They blew a 17-point lead to their bitter rivals, who pulled out a 23-20 victory on a last-second field goal - reminiscent of the Bengals' Wild Card meltdown two Januarys ago.

Cincinnati came out of the physical game with four more significant players unable to answer the bell this week, including LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Dre Kirkpatrick and RB Joe Mixon still ailing with concussions. 

Cornerback Adam Jones (groin) went on injured reserve Saturday and will miss the last four games. Burfict got a concussion and was carted off the field after receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster leveled him with a blindside block and then stood over him in a taunting pose, drawing a one-game suspension from the NFL.

Bengals safety George Iloka initially got a one-game suspension for hitting Antonio Brown in the head on a touchdown catch, but it was rescinded and reduced to a $36,464.50 fine.

The Bengals will be down five defensive starters counting LB Nick Vigil and S Shawn Williams, who missed the Steelers game. And it could have been worse with three players listed as questionable: DT Geno Atkins (toe), CB Darqueze Dennard (knee) and LB Vincent Rey (hamstring).

The Bears are in a deep slide as they make only their third visit to Paul Brown Stadium.  

Much of their focus is on rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who is struggling in one of the NFL's worst offenses and is 2-6 as a starter. He went 12 of 15 for only 102 yards during a 15-14 loss to the 49ers last week, but Fox praised the performance as a step forward. The Bears rank last in total offense, yards passing and passing attempts.

"People have gone through a lot worse, a lot worse seasons and come out on the other side," said Trubisky, whose passer rating is sixth-worst in the league. "You try to look at those success stories. You can just always believe you'll beat the odds."

In this case, all those injuries in the Bengals secondary should help the Bears' odds considerably.

Some other things to watch Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:

DALTON'S PICKLESS STREAK: Andy Dalton hasn't thrown an interception since the Bengals' 29-14 loss at Pittsburgh on Oct. 22. His streak of six games without an interception ties for second-longest in club history, as does his 176 pass attempts without getting picked off. Neil O'Donnell went seven games and 238 attempts without one in 1998.

STEELERS HANGOVER: Another season-crushing loss to the Steelers left the Bengals with only the smallest of playoff chances, and they know it. Several of them called the Monday night game a must-win situation. With one less day to prepare, it'll be interesting to see how much enthusiasm the Bengals have left.

BLOCK OUT: The Bears' offense took another hit during the week when right guard Kyle Long was placed on injured reserve because of a shoulder injury. The three-time Pro Bowler has also dealt with a finger issue this year and was placed on IR last year because of an ankle injury.

The Bears will be missing a key blocker, which doesn't bode well for Trubisky or Jordan Howard, who has run for 6 and 38 yards the past two games against Philadelphia and San Francisco.

FAMILIAR FOOT:  Mike Nugent will be back at PBS for the first time since the Bengals cut him a year ago. The Bears signed Nugent this week after Carlos Santos got hurt. Nugent had a four-game stint with the Cowboys while Dan Bailey was injured. Nugent made 8 of 8 extra points and 7 of 9 field goal tries with a longest of 48 yards.

WHAT HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE? The Bengals are only 3-3 at home this season, playing in front of small crowds. Their Monday night game drew 56,029 — many of them Steelers fans — leaving 10,000 empty seats. It's likely to be worse for the final home games against the Bears and the Lions on Christmas eve.