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Bengals won’t let past predict performance vs. Colts

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CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals’ 27-17 loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday night, the 27-0 humiliation earlier this year at Indianapolis and the first-round playoff losses in each of the last three seasons all have one thing in common:

They won’t mean anything when the Bengals step into Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday for a rematch against the Colts in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

“I think the greatest part about this time of year is none of that matters,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “Them beating us last time and, as good as they were, it doesn’t get them a win this time and it doesn’t give us a loss. We have a clean slate with an opportunity to go up there and make it right.”

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. “The slate’s clean now. It’s 0-0. It’s how you finish this thing. So we’re not going to delve back into the past. What we have to do now, in order to right everything that hasn’t gone the way we want it to, is go win.”

Clean slate. Fresh start. Moving on. 0-0. All of the talking points were there Monday afternoon as the Bengals prepared to embark on their latest attempt to end the franchise’s 24-year drought without a playoff victory.

“Now all the things that were ‘would’ve, could’ve, should’ve’ get a chance to be rectified,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “(You) get an opportunity to make the very, very best of it and a chance to be world champions. It’s there in front (of us).”

Contributing to the Etch-A-Sketch mentality is the fact that the Bengals were without a key piece of their offense, Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, in the Oct. 19 loss at Indianapolis.

They also were missing starting strong-side linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, while starting weak-side linebacker Vontaze Burfict left with a neck injury in the first quarter.

But perhaps most important of all is the fact that they were lacking the offensive identity they have established over the second half of the season, sparked by the emergence of rookie running back Jeremy Hill.

“This is a different team,” Jackson said. “We have a team that runs the football. We have an identity. Hopefully we’ll have all of our guys who are able to play back and ready to play. I don’t think A.J. played the first time we played them. I know Jeremy Hill was not the starter the first time we played them.

“There’s a much different mindset,” Jackson added. “And there should be. There should be a mindset that has some confidence.”

NOTES: WR A.J. Green remains under concussion protocol after leaving Sunday’s loss in the fourth quarter following a helmet-to-helmet hit. … Rookie RB Jeremy Hill carried 23 times for 100 yards, making him the first Bengals back to run for 100 yards against Pittsburgh since Rudi Johnson did in 2004. It was Hill’s third consecutive 100-yard game, and he finished five yards shy of Corey Dillon’s team rookie record of 1,129 yards. … S Reggie Nelson refused to comment Sunday night on the shouting match he had with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin after the game. “There really wasn’t a situation,” he said. “I just asked a question and that was pretty much it. That’s the end of that. I have nothing but respect for Coach Tomlin. The Steelers have a great organization over there and a great head coach, and I just wish them the best in the postseason.” … The Bengals’ 2015 non-division schedule includes home dates with the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, Houston Texans, St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks. They play on the road vs. the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.

REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS

–PASSING OFFENSE: C — All three turnovers came in the passing game and not only led to 14 Pittsburgh points but cost the Bengals at least six. Andy Dalton’s first pick came with the offense at the Steelers’ 28-yard line, and his second one positioned Pittsburgh at the Cincinnati 28, leading to a go-ahead touchdown. Wide receiver A.J. Green’s fumble was a double dose of disaster, as it came in field-goal range to negate a potential game-tying kick and led to the clinching score three plays later. But there was a lot to be encouraged about as well. Dalton bounced back from his early miscues to find a rhythm and put the Bengals in position to tie the game or go ahead late. Green also rebounded from a slow start to catch eight passes for 84 yards. Jermaine Gresham had a gutty showing, playing through back pain. And Giovani Bernard had a season-high seven catches and a TD reception.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: B — Jeremy Hill hit the 100-yard mark for the third week in a row, and the team averaged 4.0 yards per carry. But Hill had 47 yards after just four carries six and a half minutes into the game, which meant he gained 53 yards on 19 carries (2.8) the rest of the way, including a no-gainer on a third-and-1. But Dalton converted the fourth down on the following snap with a 2-yard push.

–PASS DEFENSE: C-minus — Ben Roethlisberger stood in a clean pocket all night long and threw for 317 yards and two touchdowns. The Bengals registered one hit against Roethlisberger, and on one of the rare plays where they blitzed, the Steelers burned them for the game-clinching, 63-yard touchdown by Antonio Brown. The pass defense did come up with a key interception when Reggie Nelson picked off a pass at the Cincinnati 11, Wallace Gilberry added a gift fumble recovery on a poor shotgun snap and the Bengals limited the Steelers to 3 of 11 on third downs, but none of it was enough to offset a mediocre performance otherwise.

–RUSH DEFENSE: A — The Bengals held Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell to 20 yards on eight carries three weeks after he exploded for 185 yards and two touchdowns in the win at Cincinnati. The Steelers finished with 29 yards on 18 carries. It was the fewest rushing yards the Bengals have allowed since 2007, when they held the New York Giants to 27, and it was the ninth-lowest total in franchise history. The Steelers’ longest gain of the game was six yards.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: D-plus — Antonio Brown’s 71-yard touchdown marked the first time this year the Bengals have allowed a punt return of more than 11 yards, but this grade is based on one game, not the entire season. Dre Kirkpatrick, who has been excellent in the gunner role all season, was not on the field for the play because he was starting at cornerback with Terence Newman out, and it cost the Bengals seven points. Another season-long strength came up short — or wide — Sunday night as Mike Nugent’s streak of 15 consecutive field goals ended on a 50-yard attempt that was a bit wide of the mark. Huber averaged 49.3 yards on three punts, and Adam Jones had a decent night returning kickoffs, posting a 22.8 averaging on five attempts.

–COACHING: C-plus — It’s hard to pin a loss on the coaching staff when the quarterback is gift-wrapping interceptions and the team’s best player is fumbling in enemy territory with the game on the line in the closing minutes. The fact that the Bengals were even in position to tie or possibly win the game at the end was a testament to the adjustments offensive coordinator Hue Jackson made against a Steelers defense that was playing deep to try to take away A.J. Green’s explosiveness. Defensively, however, there was a lack of adjustments as the Bengals continued to rely solely on the front four for a pass rush even though the group was no threat whatsoever.


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