Bengals below .500, stuck in neutral midway through season


By Joe Kay

AP Sports Writer

CINCINNATI — A.J. Green wowed ‘em with incredible catches and showed the crowd in London what everyone back home knows — he’s nearly impossible to cover.

Tyler Eifert was back in the flow, getting into the end zone when the Bengals needed it most.

Even with all of that, the best they could do was tie.

Cincinnati’s first visit to London summed up its season on a football pitch. Whatever worked last season when the Bengals won the AFC North has somehow evaporated a year later.

The Bengals won their first eight games last season. Since then, they’ve gone 7-9-1, including a first-round playoff loss to Pittsburgh. They’ve slipped back into the huge pack of mid-level NFL teams.

A 27-27 tie with Washington on Sunday left them 3-4-1, the first time they’ve had a losing record at season’s midpoint since 2012. The tie against Washington especially stung, given how many chances they had to pull it out in both the fourth quarter and overtime.

“Opportunities, but just let it slip away,” said quarterback Andy Dalton, who fumbled away a chance in overtime.

It’s been that way all season.

The Bengals have been one of the healthiest teams in the league, which should be a big advantage for the defending division champs. They’ve shown flashes of their 2015 form, and then self-destructed with a bad play on offense or another defensive breakdown that prevented them from taking control of the game.

Green and Dalton are having solid seasons again. Eifert, who set a club record for tight ends with 13 touchdown catches last season, is finally back from ankle surgery and putting his imprint on the offense. He had nine catches for 102 yards and a touchdown in his first significant playing time. Green had nine catches for 121 yards.

But the offense couldn’t take advantage of its opportunities in overtime, frittering away the last one when Dalton fumbled on a keeper. He also had a costly interception, something rare for him this season.

That’s not the worst of it, though. The defense remains subpar even though linebacker Vontaze Burfict is back in form after serving a three-game suspension from the NFL for illegal hits. Kirk Cousins threw for a season-high 458 yards at Wembley Stadium, and Washington piled up 546 yards in all.

It was the third time in the past four games that the defense allowed more than 400 yards. The only team that didn’t hit the mark was Cleveland, which lost another quarterback and ran for 180 yards in Cincinnati’s only win during that stretch.

The defense that gave up the second-fewest points in the league last season and finished 11th in yards allowed. It has slipped to 24th overall in yards allowed. If they stay on course, it would be their worst showing defensively since 2007, the year before Mike Zimmer was hired as the coordinator.

NOTES: The Bengals had the day off after returning from London. They’ll meet on Tuesday and then go into their bye week. … Eifert was on the field for 74 of the 88 plays, a significant upgrade. He returned against Cleveland and was in for only 15 plays. … LT Andrew Whitworth sustained a concussion in the game against Cleveland, was cleared from the protocol on Thursday, and was on the field for all 88 plays on Sunday. … The Bengals stayed with their plan of alternating at right tackle, which has been a problem spot. Cedric Ogbuehi was in for two out of three series, with Eric Winston playing the third series.

By Joe Kay

AP Sports Writer

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