PHOTO: Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna (3) runs while a New England Patriot defender tries to stop him during the fourth quarter, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2004, in Foxboro, Mass. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)
The Bengals are 6-7 and need to win their final three games to post their first winning record (9-7) since 1990.
They were 8-8 in 1996 and 2003.
"Extremely important. Very important," is how coach Marvin Lewis answered a question Monday when asked of the importance of finishing with a winning record. "But we can't concentrate on three games. We must prepare for the opportunity to play the Buffalo Bills at home."
After playing Buffalo at home, the Bengals entertain the New York Giants, who have lost six in a row. The Bengals will close the season at Philadelphia on Jan. 2. The Bengals will have played all three teams that are 12-1 at this point: the Eagles, Steelers and Patriots.
The Bills have won four in a row to improve to 7-6. They are ahead of the barely alive Bengals in the race for the last AFC wild card berth.
"Buffalo is playing very well right now," Lewis said. "Offensively, with (tailback Willis) McGahee, their receivers, (Eric Moulds), and Lee Evans and the quarterback (Drew Bledsoe), they are playing very well.
"Defensively, they are getting after teams. I saw that big Sam (Adams) had a couple sacks. I think they are the leading special teams unit in the NFL right now."
Adams, who played for Lewis when Lewis was Baltimore's defensive coordinator, teams with another big tackle, Pat Williams, to clog the middle of the Buffalo line.
"People will be excited for this game," Lewis said. "It should be a fun day on Sunday. It's important for us right now to concentrate on the Bills, and we will concentrate on the weeks ahead when they arrive. Paramount is the word for this week's game."
- The Bengals have achieved a franchise first in the past three games. The
478 yards of total offense at New England on Sunday gave them 450-plus yards
in each of their last three games. The Bengals gained 504 yards against Cleveland
on Nov. 28, 453 yards at Baltimore on Dec. 5 and the 478 at New England in
a loss Sunday.
The Bengals have scored 113 points, 99 by the offense. The defense scored a touchdown against the Browns on cornerback Deltha O'Neal's interception and a special teams touchdown at New England on a fake field goal.
- The Bengals allowed their fifth score in the last minute of the first half
Sunday at New England. The Patriots, Tennessee and Cleveland scored touchdowns.
Dallas and Baltimore kicked field goals with less than one minute remaining
in the half.
- The Bengals hired Marvin Lewis as coach Jan. 14, 2003. They will face their
two other outside candidates in the next two weeks. Bills first-year coach
Mike Mularkey, whose team is 7-6, was Steelers offensive coordinator at the
time he was interviewed. Buffalo will play Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Tom Coughlin will bring his New York Giants, now 5-8 and losers of the last six in a row, on Dec. 26. Coughlin had been freshly fired as Jacksonville coach at the end of the 2002 season.
The Bengals also interviewed their running backs coach, Jim Anderson, for the head coach job. And they interviewed former Bengals defensive coordinator Mark Duffner, now the linebackers coach in Green Bay.
Lewis is 14-15 in 29 games with the Bengals. He was 14-14 before losing at New England. In the previous 28 games, the Bengals had a 6-22 record.
- QB Carson Palmer (knee) is questionable after suffering a sprained left
knee against New England. He had to leave the game. He had an MRI Sunday night
that revealed no ACL damage, coach Marvin Lewis said. Palmer is still wearing
a brace on his left leg and using crutches, but he will be re-evaluated Wednesday,
Lewis said. Jon Kitna, who relieved Palmer at New England, would start against
Buffalo if Palmer can't go.
- SS Rogers Beckett (neck) is questionable for Week 15 against the Bills.
- CB Deltha O'Neal (ankle) is questionable. He missed the New England game.
Rookie Keiwan Ratliff started for the third time.
- DL Duane Clemons (knee) is questionable. He leads the team with 6.5 sacks.
- C Rich Braham (knee) is questionable. He suffered the injury in the first quarter at New England but did return. Jerry Fontenot subbed for Braham and would play if Braham couldn't.
REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Carson Palmer and Jon Kitna combined for 328 passing yards and were not sacked. Both quarterbacks moved well away from consistent pressure. Palmer suffered a sprained left knee in the third quarter and could not finish. They threw three touchdown passes, but two interceptions killed their chances. Asante Samuel returned a Palmer's interception 34 yards for a touchdown. And Troy Brown intercepted Kitna in the end zone.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Bengals had 150 rushing yards, 89 from starter Rudi Johnson, and they had a six-minute edge in time of possession. But Johnson's fumble inside the Patriots 20-yard line on the game's first drive prevented the Bengals from snapping a Patriots' streak of scoring first at 17 games. Instead, New England quarterback Tom Brady drove the Patriots 84 yards for a touchdown, and the Patriots had a 7-0 lead.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- Cornerback Tory James was beat badly for a touchdown pass to David Patten, and Brady missed just eight of 26 passes. The Bengals had just one sack, and Brady even completed a pass after falling on his back side.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Bengals turned in a solid effort most of the day, limiting the Patriots to 94 yards rushing as a team. Corey Dillon got loose for a long of just 16 yards, and the Bengals stopped a fourth-down run by Patriots special teams captain Larry Izzo to regain possession. Still, New England gained the yards when they needed them.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- The Bengals get very little from the kickoff return men, though Keiwan Ratliff is beginning to light a spark on punt returns. The highlight of Sunday was a fak field goal in which holder Kyle Larson spotted a stacked formation in the middle of the New England front and called the fake. From his spot at the 19-yard line, Larson ran untouched to inside the 5 and broke a tackle to score on an 11-yard run. Shayne Graham's kickoffs continue to fall too short, and the Bengals let Bethel Johnson get away on a 38-yard kickoff return.
COACHING: B -- Marvin Lewis continues to do a masterful job of bringing
his young team along. For the second time in four games, he let them know being
close -- even losing by a touchdown to the defending world champions on the
road -- is not good enough. The confidence of the team is up for legitimate
reasons. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski called another good game offensively
against an excellent defense. Special teams coach Darrin Simmons largely has
his players ready. The problems remain with the defense and the defensive staff.
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