The Bengals look like the same old Bengals. For 59 minutes. Cincinnati has rebounded from a 4-11-1 season to be tied for first in the AFC North by posting go-ahead or game-winning scores four times in the final 38 seconds. And now the Bengals (4-2) host a Bears team at 3:15 p.m. on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium that has blown fourth-quarter leads in four of their last nine losses the last two years.
The Bengals look like the same old Bengals. For 59 minutes.
Cincinnati has rebounded from a 4-11-1 season to be tied for first in the AFC North by posting go-ahead or game-winning scores four times in the final 38 seconds.
And now the Bengals (4-2) host a Bears team at 3:15 p.m. on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium that has blown fourth-quarter leads in four of their last nine losses the last two years.
“I wouldn’t say they wake up at the end. They weren’t asleep,” Bears backup safety Corey Graham said. “They are trying to make plays the whole game; they just make more of them at the end.”
Carson Palmer, the Bengals’ two-time Pro Bowl quarterback, has had a poor season, ranking 25th in pass rating at 78.3. But he’s been at his best on late desperation drives. The Bengals were 6-for-6 converting fourth downs in upsets of the Steelers and Ravens, who had the NFL’s top two defenses last year.
“It’s beautiful,” five-time Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco said on a conference call. “The city is on fire. The team is on fire. Our confidence level is really high.”
Former Bear Cedric Benson, third in the NFL with 531 rushing yards, and a solid defense that’s 14th in the NFL in points allowed (19.7) has kept the Bengals close until Palmer takes over at the end.
“You don’t want to let every game go down to the wire, but that’s the way it’s been,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. “In the last couple of seasons, we haven’t pulled those games out. This year, we’ve made some plays. Our quarterback has been very efficient with the football, and we’ve got to keep going that way.”
The Bears (3-2) don’t want another game to come down to the wire. Not after stalling at the 5 in the final minute of last week’s loss in Atlanta.
Putting the Bengals away early may start on the earliest down. Chicago has run for 101 yards on 51 first-down rushes this year, an average of 1.98 yards per carry.
“We could all do a better job with the running game and definitely on first down,” offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. “We want to have good first-down efficiency, run or pass. We don’t want to be in second-and-10. We want to be in second-and-4, second-and-5, staying ahead of the chains.”
And staying out of trouble. The Bears had two turnovers inside the 15 last week and committed three penalties on their final ill-fated drive.
“We’ve got to eliminate that,” Turner said. “We do some good things, but that doesn’t make us a good offense. When we quit hurting ourselves, we’ll become a really good offense. We did a lot of good things last week, but we did some bad things to negate that. That’s what we’ve got to eliminate.”
Trim down the mistakes. And don’t leave the Bengals a comeback window at the end. That’s Chicago’s plan.
“The Bengals have just found a way to win,” defensive tackle Anthony Adams said. “They’ve found an area to attack and they’ve attacked it. They create mismatches.
“Just a win, period, would be great for us. Especially coming off a loss like that. Getting the ‘W’ is all that matters.”
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prediction: Bears 24, Bengals 13
Bears keys to the game
1) Don’t be stubborn. If the running game isn’t working, let Jay Cutler throw 15 times in a row if necessary. “I would be (comfortable with that),” Cutler said. “But that’s tough. You want to run the ball. This league is built on running the ball and being able to stop the run.”
2) Don’t gamble to stop Cedric Benson. It may be embarrassing if Benson has a good game, but Benson won’t beat the Bears. Quarterback Carson Palmer might. “You can’t make too many mistakes with him, because he’ll make you pay,” defensive tackle Anthony Adams said.
3) Run on second down. The Bears will never abandon the run, even if they should, so pick the best down. Chicago’s seven longest runs by a running back this year — 61, 37, 16, 12, 11 and 10 yards — have all come on second down.
4) Don’t be stupid. No turnovers in the red zone or penalties on third or fourth down and the Bears will be hard to beat.