Steel­ers hope for a win and some luck vs. Ben­gals

Lexington Herald-Leader (Sunday) - - Sports -

the lat­est a 31-28 de­feat on the road in New Or­leans last Sun­day that dropped Pitts­burgh to sec­ond place be­hind the Ravens.

The game fol­lowed a trou­bling pat­tern for the Steel­ers. Pitts­burgh moved the ball only to make crit­i­cal mis­takes at crit­i­cal times. The Steel­ers’ fi­nal three pos­ses­sions against the Saints ended with two fum­bles and a fake punt that ended up a half-yard short of a first down.

Throw in a pair of ques­tion­able pass in­ter­fer­ence calls against cor­ner­back Joe Haden – both of which set up New Or­leans touch­downs – and the Steel­ers find them­selves in dan­ger of miss­ing the post­sea­son for the first time since 2013.

“We’re all aware of the sit­u­a­tion,” cen­ter Mau­r­kice Pouncey said. “We know what we’ve got to do and hope­fully it works out.”

Any shot at the Ben­gals re­turn­ing to the playoffs ended weeks ago, their sea­son un­done by in­juries – namely to quar­ter­back Andy Dal­ton and wide re­ceiver A.J. Green – and a de­fense that ranks as the worst in fran­chise history. The main ques­tion head­ing into the fi­nale is whether this is head coach Marvin Lewis’ fi­nal game.

The Ben­gals haven’t reached the post­sea­son since 2015, though Lewis said he doesn’t be­lieve the out­come on Sun­day will have any ef­fect on his fu­ture.

Play­ers are wait­ing to see how it shakes out.

“Peo­ple ask me, ‘Is Marvin go­ing to be back?’ – just peo­ple out there in the world,” de­fen­sive end Jor­dan Wil­lis said. “And I’m like, ‘I have no idea.’ My dad had to tell me the (de­fen­sive) co­or­di­na­tor was fired, and he’s in Kansas City. He called and told me that Teryl Austin was fired. So that just goes to show how much we

The Ben­gals wrap up one of their most dis­ap­point­ing sea­sons un­der Lewis. They started 4-1 and could have taken con­trol of the di­vi­sion by hold­ing on to beat Pitts­burgh on Oct. 14, but Brown turned a short pass into a 31-yard touch­down with 10 sec­onds left for a 28-21 win that started the plum­met – eight losses in the past 10 games. Af­ter surg­ing ahead of the AFC North to start the sea­son, they’re fin­ish­ing at the bot­tom of the di­vi­sion for only the sec­ond time un­der Lewis.

“It’s been a roller­coaster sea­son, for sure,” cor­ner­back Dar­queze Den­nard said. “We def­i­nitely thought it would be a dif­fer­ent sea­son.” An­other up­set? The Ben­gals knocked the ri­val Ravens out of the playoffs with a 31-27 win in Bal­ti­more last year, open­ing a spot for Buf­falo to make the post­sea­son. Now they’re in po­si­tion to end Pitts­burgh’s sea­son, but there’s a big dif­fer­ence from last year’s fi­nale. Cincin­nati has 15 play­ers on in­jured re­serve. Backup quar­ter­back Jeff Driskel com­pleted only 2 of 6 passes for 3 yards in the first half of a 26-18 loss at Cleve­land last Sun­day, an in­di­ca­tion of how far they’ve fallen.

They’re more fo­cused on sim­ply play­ing well against the Steel­ers, who have won seven straight and 10 of 11 in the se­ries.

“I don’t think it has much to do with the spoiler role,” Driskel said.

AP writer Joe Kay in Cincin­nati con­trib­uted to this re­port.

DAVID RICHARD AP

Ben­gals quar­ter­back Jeff Driskel (6) com­pleted only 2 of 6 passes in the first half against the Browns on Dec. 23.

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