Bengals now in desperation mode

BALTIMORE — The Cincinnati Bengals had just lost another game they had to win. The reality of their situation was apparent as a stone-faced Marvin Lewis shuffled at the front of a line of sullen players heading to the locker room.

Sunday’s 19-14 loss to Baltimore left the Bengals (3-7-1) to ponder this: To extend their run of five straight postseason appearances, winning out might not be enough.

“As I told our guys, now we need help,” Lewis said. “It’s not done. We obviously have to do our end now — and that’s win the last five ballgames if we have any chance to go to the playoffs.”

The Bengals are wounded, down and just about out. Playing their first full game without injured offensive stars Giovani Bernard and A.J. Green, the Bengals fell into a 16-3 hole at halftime and never recovered.

Andy Dalton was harassed for much of the day, in part because he didn’t have a running game to back him up (64 yards rushing on 20 attempts). Dalton was sacked three times, lost two fumbles and had numerous balls batted down at the line of scrimmage.

“I don’t know how many they tipped at the end. It can be frustrating,” Dalton said. “My guess is they weren’t rushing as much, just putting their hands up. . It’s just the nature of having to throw the ball.”

With Green out, Dalton completed passes to nine different players. Only one of those throws went for a score.

“I thought we moved the ball really well,” he said. “We were close. Very close. It felt like a typical game against Baltimore, coming down to the end where we had a chance to win or tie it up.”

It turned out to be just another loss in an injury-marred, disappointing season. The Bengals have won only once since Sept. 29 and are 0-3-1 in their last four. And that is why they now stand on the brink of elimination.

“We got to find a way to turn it around, try and find a way to win one game at this point,” Dalton said. “One game, then it can carry over to two. We got to change it.”

To their credit, the Bengals made a run after falling behind 19-9 with 12:16 remaining. A field goal cut the gap to a touchdown, and Dalton took the offense to the Baltimore 16 before a third-down fumble ended the comeback bid.

Thanks to a safety from Baltimore on the final play of the game, the Bengals scored five points in the fourth quarter — one more than their average. That’s another thing that has to change if Cincinnati is to make a run at the postseason.

“We had something going there in the final drive in the fourth quarter but we didn’t finish it off,” running back Rex Burkhead said. “We’re disappointed, but we’re going to keep fighting. That’s what this team is made of — high-character guys who are going to keep fighting.”

Whether or not Green returns from a hamstring injury next week to face Philadelphia, the Bengals won’t feel sorry for themselves.

“That’s why each and every one of us is in the NFL,” said receiver James Wright, who had three catches for 23 yards. “We all have talent. We just have to put it together and come together as a group and make plays.”