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Missed opportunities plague Bengals' playoff chase

49ers Bengals Football
Posted at 10:33 PM, Dec 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-13 11:14:29-05

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals let another opportunity slip past.

After two straight defeats, including Sunday’s error-filled 26-23 overtime loss to San Francisco, the Bengals remain a game behind Baltimore atop the AFC North. That’s even though the Ravens have dropped two in a row as well.

“This is December,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “We put ourselves in a position for these games to mean something. This team has a lot of faith in themselves.”

Sunday’s loss was especially tough for Cincinnati.

The Bengals (7-6) trailed 20-6 before Ja’Marr Chase caught a pair of touchdown passes from Joe Burrow to tie the score in the fourth quarter. The Bengals led 23-20 in overtime, but Jimmy Garoppolo’s 12-yard TD pass to Brandon Aiyuk won it for San Francisco.

“Every loss we’ve had feels like we should have won all of them,” Taylor said. “That’s the NFL right now. The key is to fix what we can fix.”

On Sunday, two fumbled punts by Darius Phillips led to 10 points for the 49ers. A taunting penalty on safety Vonn Bell also led to a score.

“It’s a tough one,” linebacker Sam Hubbard said. “We have a chance to go to the playoffs. The good teams don’t make those mistakes.”

A win on Sunday would have moved the Bengals into a first-place tie with Baltimore in the AFC North. As it stands, the Bengals are tied with the Browns a game back.

“It’s just a rollercoaster of a season,” Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton said. “Everybody’s fighting for position.”

Cincinnati’s schedule only gets tougher, with its next four opponents a combined 31-21 and all in the playoff picture.

The Bengals play at Denver on Sunday followed by two straight home games against the Ravens and Chiefs before finishing the regular season at Cleveland.

“We’re still right there,” Burrow said. “We just need to find a way to win these last few games, and stop beating ourselves.”

There’s also now an injury concern after defensive end Trey Hendrickson, the team’s sacks leader, left Sunday’s game in the third quarter with a back problem.

Inconsistency has plagued Cincinnati all season. The Bengals have won two straight games three times this season, but never three. A 41-17 rout of the Ravens was followed by a loss to the lowly Jets. A huge win over the Steelers preceded a 19-point loss to the Chargers.

The Ravens losing back-to-back games to the Steelers and Browns has kept the Bengals in the hunt, but they didn’t do their part.

“When one of the teams you’re fighting for the division loses, you have to take advantage,” Burrow said. “It’s a missed opportunity.”

Now time’s getting short.

“I don’t think anyone wants to play us, honestly,” Taylor said. “They know we’re going to fight to the end. That speaks volumes for this team. Turnovers have hurt our consistency. We just need our guys to step up.”