December 7, 2017, 1:22 am
The Cincinnati Bengals are not ready to concede their playoff campaign quite yet as they prepare to host the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium.
However, it will take a miracle finish for Cincinnati (5-7) to climb back into the postseason picture. The Bengals are looking to bounce back from a penalty-filled, injury-riddled game Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The violent ruckus in Cincinnati's 23-20 loss left players on both sides seriously injured, including Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion) and running back Joe Mixon (concussion).
Bengals safety George Iloka initially was suspended one game for delivering a head shot against Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, but Iloka's suspension was overturned on appeal.
Players and coaches hope cooler heads prevail when Cincinnati kicks off against Chicago (3-9).
"Just win out," Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap said to the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Do what we gotta do to win this next football game and then worry about the next one after that. But more importantly, we can't overlook this one because we've got to get one before you can get two."
On the opposite side of the field, the Bears will take anything they can get. Chicago has lost a season-worst five straight games and is dead last in the NFL in total offense at 275.8 yards per game.
Then again, Cincinnati is second to last in total offense at 280.8 yards per game.
"(We need) more explosive plays," Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said. "Be better on first and second down so we're not always in third-and-longer situations. We want to be in third-and-manageable. Or just go first down, second down, first down with the explosive plays. We just need to get the ball into our playmakers' hands, stay efficient and be good with the football."
Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, will make his ninth career start. He has a 74.6 passer rating for the season (1,237 passing yards, five touchdowns, four interceptions), and he is averaging 6.7 yards per scramble with 194 rushing yards.
The Bears offer another challenge on the ground with running back Jordan Howard, who needs 115 rushing yards to lock up his second consecutive 1,000-yard effort. Undersized rookie running back Tarik Cohen, whose game reminds many of a young Darren Sproles, also is proving effective with 578 yards from scrimmage (267 rushing, 311 receiving).
The Bengals will counter on offense with quarterback Andy Dalton, who is 180 passing yards shy of hitting 25,000 for his career.
Dalton will face Chicago for only the second time in seven seasons. The first meeting occurred in the 2013 season opener, which marked the first game for then-Bears coach Marc Trestman. Dalton completed 26 of 33 passes for 282 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions but lost 24-21 to Chicago.
Dalton has been on a hot streak of late. He has thrown at least two touchdown passes in four straight games and six of seven, and he has not thrown an interception in six consecutive games.
Dalton's top target, wide receiver A.J. Green, has 60 receptions for 886 yards and eight touchdowns. Green is flirting with his sixth 1,000-yard performance in seven seasons.
If Mixon cannot play, look for Giovanni Bernard to take on a more prominent role in the Bengals' backfield. Bernard enters the game with 436 yards from scrimmage (198 rushing yards, 238 receiving yards) and two receiving touchdowns in 12 games.
On defense, Cincinnati could be particularly thin if Burfict and Nick Vigil (ankle) are out. The Bengals could turn to veteran Kevin Minter and rookies Hardy Nickerson and Jordan Evans as their main linebacker corps.
"A lot of guys that we're missing right now are leaders and big-time playmakers for us," Evans said to the Enquirer. "But that's what the National Football League is -- guys come in and go each week and the next guy has to be prepared to perform at the same level that the guys before them are playing.
"That's just our job, and we've got to be better pros at that."
The Bears have echoed many of the same thoughts in recent weeks. This week, the team shut down injured offensive lineman Kyle Long and defensive lineman Mitch Unrein for the rest of the season.
Chicago also placed kicker Cairo Santos on injured reserve and signed veteran free agent Mike Nugent, who played from 2010 to 2016 for the Bengals. Nugent will be the third kicker this season for the Bears, who released Connor Barth last month.