Bengals road win keeps them alive

DENVER, Co. — There’s still life in the Cincinnati Bengals this season.

The Bengals defeated the Broncos 20-17 on Sunday, snapping a two-game losing streak and returning home after a three-game road trip. With their victory, they still remain mathematically in the AFC wild-card picture, although they are almost to the point where they would need to win out to keep themselves there.

The Bengals can’t afford to make any more mistakes this season, and they made a lot of them against the Broncos, whose defense had given up 92 points in the two games prior to meeting the Bengals. However, the Bengals still managed to get a win on the road after a topsy-turvy few weeks, which shows they haven’t thrown in the towel, despite their struggles.

So where does that leave them?

If one were to sum up the 2017 Bengals season, one play against the Broncos could probably do the trick. Early in the first quarter, a few plays after a blocked punt gave the Broncos excellent field position, Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick appeared to save the day. He picked off quarterback Brock Osweiler in the end zone and streaked down the field untouched, looking like he was headed for an interception return for a touchdown. Kirkpatrick looked back at Broncos players in pursuit and fumbled the ball before recovering it at the 1-yard line.

His play was the longest interception return in NFL history not to result in a touchdown. Much like the Bengals’ season, there was potential there, but an inability to finish. With games coming up against the Steelers and Vikings, and considering the Bengals just lost their two previous road games, it’s fair to ask if they have made improvements or just beat up on hapless teams this season.

Three of the Bengals’ four wins this season have come against hard-luck teams in the Colts, Browns and Broncos, who have combined for six wins. The other victory came against the Bills (5-5), who are still in the playoff hunt but lost to the Chargers by 30 points on Sunday.

The Bengals’ offense, which can be blamed for the team falling into an early hole this season, looks a lot like it has for most of the year: occasionally good but mostly stagnant. The Bengals punted six straight times at one point against the Broncos, and Cincinnati finished with 190 net yards of offense.

The Bengals took a step forward by showing they can close out a game on Sunday. Now they just have to figure out how to do that consistently.

What it means: The Bengals aren’t out of it yet. If they can string together some wins, they can get back in the conversation, which is big after things appeared to go off the rails during the past two weeks, with ejections and a last-minute loss against the Titans.

What I liked: Vontaze Burfict and A.J. Green, two of the biggest playmakers for the Bengals, were back to making things happen after being ejected in back-to-back weeks. Burfict forced a fumble in the fourth quarter in Denver that led to a touchdown by Green. The score put the Bengals up 20-10 and came off one of Andy Dalton‘s best throws of the season.

What I didn’t like: The offense was bad, but the Bengals’ special-teams play was even worse. Randy Bullock missed a PAT, and the Bengals had a punt blocked. It was not a good day overall for punter Kevin Huber. The only bright spot was a blocked field goal by KeiVarae Russell.

Fantasy fallout: Bengals rookie John Ross continues to be missing in action after he was a healthy scratch against the Broncos. Tight end Tyler Kroft has stepped up this season in place of Tyler Eifert, but it’s hard to count on him as a solid fantasy player with the Bengals’ offense so inconsistent. Kroft also injured his hand during Sunday’s game and returned wearing a soft cast under his gloves, which might have led to a dropped pass.

What’s next: The Bengals will return home for the first time since Oct. 29. They’ll host the winless Browns, a team they beat in Cleveland 31-7 earlier this season.

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