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Instead of breakthrough, Bengals get beat-down

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Instead of breakthrough, Bengals get beat-down

CINCINNATI (AP) Instead of a breakthrough, the Bengals got another AFC North beat-down.

A 24-17 loss to the injury-depleted Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night dropped the Bengals (3-4) into third place in the division. They wanted to show they were ready to compete for the division title, but instead fell to 0-6 against Pittsburgh and Baltimore the last two seasons.

And now, they're in trouble. They take a three-game losing streak into bye week.

``I thought we were very, very good at stinking up October and we need to do a cleanse,'' coach Marvin Lewis said Monday. ``And the best thing going forward is to be better in November and December, which is the key because we kind of erased a lot of the positives that we had in September.

``We found a way to flush them down the toilet in October. So this week comes I think at a good time. We have an opportunity to fix a lot of the things that are ailing us right now, and that's what we've got to do.''

Their biggest ailment is their inability to beat the Steelers and the Ravens. They had two prime-time chances this season, but lost to Baltimore 44-13 in the opener on Monday night and let a 14-3 lead over the injury-depleted Steelers slip away on Sunday night.

Their Pro Bowl connection on offense - Andy Dalton throwing to A.J. Green - managed only one completion all game. The defense got flattened by a Steelers team missing its top two running backs and two offensive linemen.

When they play a top team, the Bengals are only so-so.

``We were OK in the running game,'' offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said Monday. ``OK is not good enough. We were OK in the pass. Andy played OK. A.J. played OK. OK will get you beat by the Steelers every time. Nobody played outstanding. That is what we have to have.''

That's been their way the last two seasons. They earned a wild card berth last year despite not beating another playoff team. They went 9-7 by taking advantage of a favorable schedule, then lost to Houston in the opening round.

They've taken a step back this season, losing to some struggling teams as well.

``We have to win these ballgames,'' safety Chris Crocker said. ``You only get so many opportunities. We have to beat a good team, and so far we haven't.''

The most stunning part of Sunday's loss was how it slipped away.

The Bengals opened with their most impressive drive of the season. They came out determined to run against the NFL's fifth-ranked defense, and did it. BenJarvus Green-Ellis carried eight times for 44 yards, converting on third-and-3 and fourth-and-1 to keep it going.

The Bengals carried nine times for 49 yards on the drive, which took 8 minutes, 9 seconds. The rest of the game? They ran it 12 times for only 31 yards.

Cincinnati finished with 185 yards and ran only 49 plays to Pittsburgh's 70 plays and 431 yards.

``My performance was poor,'' Gruden said. ``Our whole performance was poor. It was an embarrassment.''

The Bengals hadn't lost three in a row since 2010, when they dropped 10 straight and finished 4-12 with receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. Coming out of the bye week, they have home games against Denver and the New York Giants.

Cincinnati closes the season at San Diego, home against Dallas, at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, then home against the Ravens.

``It will be uphill from here on,'' cornerback Leon Hall said. ``The schedule doesn't get any easier.''

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NOTES: Gruden said rookie WR Marvin Jones was expected to have a big role in the passing game until he suffered a knee injury on Pittsburgh's first kickoff. The Bengals already were short at receiver with Armon Binns inactive because of a sprained ankle. Lewis said Jones' injury isn't serious. ... Lewis said the Bengals don't plan any significant roster changes during the bye, but some players might get more playing time after the break based upon what's happened. He didn't give any specifics.

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Steelers players plunder Le'Veon Bell's locker a day after missed deadline

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Steelers players plunder Le'Veon Bell's locker a day after missed deadline

Le'Veon Bell decided not to return to the Steelers this season, and his former teammates have apparently decided they can have his belongings. 

The All-Pro running back didn't sign his $14.5 million franchise tag by Tuesday's deadline, and thus is ineligible to play this season.

Steelers player were seen plundering his locker Wednesday in front of reporters. Defensive end Bud Dupree went right for Bell's cleats, thanking him for the Jordan brand shoes and saying he wishes Bell success.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters he sent Bell his well-wishes, but got no response from his former backfield mate. 

It's unclear what Bell plans to do next, but it's crystal clear the Steelers have moved on, with his shoes in tow. 

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Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III prepared to start if hip injury sidelines Joe Flacco

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USA TODAY Sports

Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III prepared to start if hip injury sidelines Joe Flacco

Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has had his fair share of life changing moments. 

Winning the Heisman Trophy in 2016, being drafted by the Ravens in the first-round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and come Sunday, possibly his first NFL start.

With Joe Flacco nursing a hip injury suffered against the Pittsburgh Steelers Week 9, the 21-year-old could be leading the Ravens for a full 60 minutes against division rival Cincinnati Bengals in what could be a defining moment of their season.

"I'm just going into it like any other week," Jackson said Wednesday. "Just preparing for whatever."

While Jackson has appeared in all nine games going 7-for-12 for 87 passing yards and one touchdown, he is the only first-round quarterback out of the 2018 draft that has yet to start this season. 

When asked how he would feel if his name is called Sunday, Jackson said he would have butterflies at first but added once the ball is snapped, "it's on."

Through the Ravens' first half of the season, how and when Jackson is utilized at either quarterback or receiver, has lacked consistency. Add in the lack of highlight reel passes from him and many are concerned he's not ready for an NFL start. 

The fast style of NFL play compared to that of college football was something Jackson admittedly struggled with throughout the preseason. But with nine regular season games under his belt, Jackson feels that is the area where he's taken the biggest strides. 

"Calling the plays," Jackson said. "Before I'd have to ask coach a hundred times, 'say it again, say it again,' but now he says it one time to me. Don't get me wrong, sometimes if [the call] is long or whatever I have to ask [coach to] say it again, but other than that I'm getting better with that."

Head coach John Harbaugh offered no insight on who would be their starting quarterback on Sunday and it can be expected he'll keep hush up until the last moment. Flacco was not on the practice field during media availability Wednesday, either. 

But let's not forget the other veteran quarterback on their roster; Robert Griffin III

For the first time since 2009, the Ravens decided to keep three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster for this very reason.

After sitting out of football for a year, RGIII was given a second chance in Baltimore, but has been a gameday inactive since the start of the season. If the week progresses and neither Flacco or Jackson seem ready, it could be the comeback of the once Offensive Rookie of the Year. 

"That's my job. That's why they brought me here," Griffin III said Wednesday on if he feels prepared to possibly start. "They brought me here to be a pro. They brought me here to help this team if need be. I try to help the defense every week on scout team and then do those [reps], and if my number's called I'll be able to go out there and lead this team."

Both RGIII and Jackson said that it would be "awesome" if they were named the starting QB on Sunday, but that no matter who it ends up being they're all here for one another.

"I'm going to continue to help [Lamar] just like I have all season because we're about the Ravens here," Griffin III said. "It's not about individuals. We've got a pretty daunting task ahead with this Bengals team and then just with the rest of our schedule, so we've got to make sure we make the most of every opportunity."

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