Bucs out of tail­spin, Ben­gals in one as mid­sea­son nears

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - Sports - BY JOE KAY — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

CINCIN­NATI

With their de­fense un­able to stop any­body, the Buc­ca­neers fired their co­or­di­na­tor and got a bet­ter show­ing – and a slump-bust­ing win – the next time out.

The Ben­gals won’t be do­ing any­thing so dras­tic, even though they’ve got sig­nif­i­cant is­sues that came to the fore­front dur­ing their sec­ond-worst drub­bing un­der coach Marvin Lewis. All they can do is hope play­ers get healthy and things get bet­ter be­fore it all slips away.

Their matchup Sun­day at Paul Brown Sta­dium could be a piv­otal mo­ment head­ing into the sea­son’s mid­point.

“I still be­lieve we’re in great shape,” Ben­gals re­ceiver Tyler Boyd said. “I don’t think we’re a bad team or we’re com­ing off a week we can’t over­come. But we’ve got to tighten up now.”

Tampa Bay (3-3) ended a three-game slide that cost de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike Smith his job. He was re­placed last week by for­mer Bucs as­sis­tant coach Mark Duffner, who sim­pli­fied the game plan. The Buc­ca­neers held Cleve­land to 305 to­tal yards and had five sacks dur­ing a 26-23 over­time vic­tory.

The show­ing was en­cour­ag­ing, and so is the up­com­ing sched­ule. Tampa Bay is near­ing the end of a stretch of four road games out of five, with one more at Carolina next week. Then the Bucca- neers play four of five at home.

“How we won the game Sun­day – if we con­tinue do­ing that, I think we’ll be fine,” said de­fen­sive end Ja­son Pierre-Paul, who has had a sack in each of the last five games.

It’s not so clear cut for the Ben­gals (4-3), who have squan­dered much of their fast start with a last­minute home loss to Pitts­burgh and a 45-10 loss at Kansas City last Sun­day night. The de­fense got shred­ded for 551 yards, the of­fense man­aged a sea­son-low 239 to­tal yards, and there were missed tack­les and botched plays that fig­ured in their sec­ond-big­gest mar­gin of de­feat dur­ing Lewis’ 16 sea­sons.

The game on Sun­day be­gins a fa­vor­able stretch for the Ben­gals: four of five at home. They’ve al­ready fallen out of first place in the AFC North and can’t slip any more be­hind.

“This game is im­por­tant for us, and we want to end the first half of the sea­son the right way,” quar­ter- back Andy Dal­ton said.

Five things to watch at Paul Brown Sta­dium: Bet­ter D: The Buc­ca­neers’ de­fense was much bet­ter vs. Cleve­land, but it still ranks last in pass de­fense. Mid­dle line­backer Kwon Alexan­der and backup line­backer Jack Cichy suf­fered sea­son-end­ing knee in­juries against the Browns, forc­ing a shuf­fle at the po­si­tion. Adar­ius Tay­lor moves from out­side line­backer to the mid­dle, and De­vante

Bond – who re­joined the team last week af­ter be­ing re­leased in Septem­ber – takes over at the out­side spot.

“That’s a great line­backer we lost,” Pier­rePaul said of Alexan­der. Third time: Jameis Win­ston makes his third start since re­turn­ing from a sus­pen­sion for vi­o­lat­ing the NFL’s per­sonal con­duct pol­icy. The Buc­ca­neers’ of­fense is ranked No. 1 in the league. Win­ston threw for 365 yards against the Browns but was sacked four times, threw a pair of in­ter­cep­tions and lost a fum­ble, a re­minder of his big­gest prob­lem: turnovers.

“It’s cost­ing us points and putting us at risk,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor

Todd Monken said. Dal­ton’s chal­lenge: Dal­ton got off to his best start since 2015, throw­ing for 11 touch­downs in the first four games. The of­fense has stalled in the last three, with Dal­ton throw­ing for only four touch­downs. The Ben­gals have been hurt by the loss of two tight ends and run­ning back Gio­vani Bernard. They were oned­i­men­sional in the drub­bing at Kansas City, with re­ceiver A.J. Green ac­count­ing for 110 of their 139 to­tal yards in the first half. They’ll be look­ing to get run­ning back Joe Mixon and the other re­ceivers more heav­ily in­volved against the Buc­ca­neers.

“A.J. is go­ing to get his – he de­serves it, and he should,” Dal­ton said. “He’s a big part of why this of­fense has been suc­cess­ful through­out the years. But if we can spread the ball around, it helps.” Flat and flat­tened: The Ben­gals’ de­fense played its slop­pi­est game in Kansas City, with missed tack­les help­ing the Chiefs pile up those 551 yards. Cincin­nati’s de­fense is ranked sec­ond to last in the league in yards al­lowed and third worst in points al­lowed.

“We’ve just got to have that fire,” cor­ner­back Dre Kirk­patrick said. “We didn’t play with enough fire.”

Old friends: Lewis and Bucs coach Dirk Koet­ter have been close friends since they were team­mates at Idaho State from 1978-80. They were in each other’s wed­dings. They re­main close even as they get set to try to beat each other.

“When you’re play­ing each other, I don’t know if you’d say it’s spe­cial be­cause both guys want their team to win,” Koet­ter said. “We’ll be root­ing against each other.”

AP writer Fred Goodall con­trib­uted to this re­port. New Or­leans (5-1) at Min­nesota (4-2-1): The Saints last week won in a “tough en­vi­ron­ment” against a play­off-cal­iber team at Bal­ti­more. Now they get the Vik­ings, who have been spotty but lead the NFC North and are 14-3 at home vs. New Or­leans.

Green Bay (3-2-1) at Los An­ge­les Rams (7-0): The Pack­ers rank fourth in pass­ing and Aaron Rodgers has 332.8 yards pass­ing per game and 12 touch­downs, one pick. Rams run­ning back Todd Gur­ley leads the NFL with 88 points, 686 yards rush­ing, 144 car­ries and 956 yards from scrim­mage. DE Aaron Don­ald co-leads with eight sacks. Den­ver (3-4) at Kansas City (6-1): The Chiefs have won six in a row in this se­ries But they also rank last in yardage al­lowed on de­fense, so Den­ver might not be to­tally over­matched. Chiefs QB Pa­trick Ma­homes leads the NFL in TD passes (22) and 25-yard­plus com­ple­tions (26). Bal­ti­more (4-3) at Carolina (4-2): The Pan­thers are home, where they’ve won eight straight. The chal­lenge is huge against Bal­ti­more, which fell at home by one point to New Or­leans when Justin Tucker missed an ex­tra point for the first time. That mis­cue shouldn’t cam­ou­flage that the Ravens lead the league in de­fense.

Seat­tle (3-3) at Detroit (3-3): Seat­tle has gone phys­i­cal with the run game and on de­fense and, de­spite be­ing in re­tool­ing mode, seems ready to chal­lenge for a wild-card play­off berth. Pete Car­roll’s bunch pro­tects the ball, too, with only six give­aways. Detroit seems to have dis­cov­ered a run­ning game: Rookie Ker­ryon John­son ran for a ca­reer-high 158 yards at Mi­ami last week. Philadel­phia (3-4) vs. Jack­sonville (3-4) at Lon­don: Coach Doug Mar­rone is stick­ing with QB Blake Bor­tles for now. The Ea­gles lead the NFL in time of posses­sion, av­er­ag­ing more than 33 min­utes. But with Jack­sonville’s se­condary un­der­manned, Car­son Wentz could look to the air. He has thrown 173 con­sec­u­tive passes with­out an in­ter­cep­tion. New Eng­land (5-2) at Buf­falo (2-5), Mon­day:

The Pa­tri­ots have scored 21 or more points in the first half in each of the past four games this sea­son to match a fran­chise-best streak, and the Bills have al­lowed 24 or more points in the first half three times.

Cleve­land (2-4-1) at Pitts­burgh (3-2-1): The Browns lead the NFL with 20 take­aways, but they have scored only 31 points off those turnovers. Pitts­burgh’s Ben Roeth­lis­berger is 22-2-1 all-time against the Browns.

Wash­ing­ton (4-2) at New York Gi­ants (1-6): The

New York tabloids al­ready are pro­ject­ing which quar­ter­back the Gi­ants will draft af­ter they fin­ish near the bot­tom of the stand­ings. In comes sur­prise

NFC East leader Wash­ing­ton, which ranks fifth in de­fense and has one of the top can­di­dates for Come­back Player of the Year in Adrian Peter­son.

New York Jets (3-4) at Chicago (3-3): Chicago led the league with 18 sacks through the first four games, but has one since. Jets first-rounder Sam Darnold leads the league with 10 INTs.

In­di­anapo­lis (2-5) at Oak­land (1-5): The tear­down of the ros­ter con­tin­ues in Oak­land, where Jon Gru­den dealt his top re­ceiver, Amari Cooper, to Dal­las. In­di­anapo­lis QB An­drew Luck seeks his fifth straight game with at least three TD passes.

San Fran­cisco (1-6) at Ari­zona (1-6): The Car­di­nals have won eight of the past nine in this se­ries, in­clud­ing three weeks ago. San Fran­cisco is mi­nus-15 in turnover mar­gin, worst in the NFL.

JOHN SLEEZER jsleezer@kc­star.com

Cincin­nati Ben­gals quar­ter­back Andy Dal­ton started the sea­son with 11 touch­downs in the first four games but has man­aged just four in the past three games.

MATT LUDTKE AP

Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay have a tough task in de­feat­ing the un­de­feated L.A. Rams on Sun­day.

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