CINCINNATI — The Bengals’ defense allowed the winless Browns only 16 points and came away thinking: This can’t happen again.
The points weren’t the problem. Cleveland piled up 405 yards as Isaiah Crowell ran for a season-high 95 yards and rookie DeShone Kizer threw for a career-high 268 yards. The Browns’ penchant for self-destruction prevented them from getting more points.
As the Bengals (5-6) watched video of their 30-16 win at Paul Brown Stadium, they couldn’t help but wince.
“We’ve had a lapse of focus, a lapse of execution,” safety George Iloka said. “I’ve alluded to that in the previous weeks. We have to focus going into this week.”
With their season on the line, the Bengals are facing an offense that can take advantage of every lapse. The Steelers (9-2) are in control of the AFC North with an offense that’s hitting its stride. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell put on a show during their 31-28 win over Green Bay on Sunday night.
If the Bengals play the way they did against the Browns, it could get ugly on Monday night.
“We did not like our performance in that last game, no matter what people say,” rookie linebacker Carl Lawson said.
“They say oh, the Bengals beat the Browns. But we want to be an elite defense. You’ve got to stop the rushing game, got to stop the pass.”
They did neither consistently while allowing 400 yards for the fourth time this season. Their worst game? Pittsburgh piled up 420 yards during a 29-14 win at Heinz Field on Oct. 22.
The Bengals rank 10th in the league in points allowed, averaging 19.5 per game. They’re 13th in yards allowed, including 28th against the rush — a bad number with the NFL’s leading rusher coming to town. Bell has rushed for 981 yards, averaging 3.9 per carry. He also leads the league with 1,377 yards combined in rushes and catches.
“There are things we need to do differently,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “That is important with the stretch of games we have, and obviously with the game we have this week.”
The Steelers have won five in a row, eight of nine, and 13 of 16 against the Bengals. They’ve won four straight at Paul Brown Stadium, including an 18-16 playoff game during the 2015 season that included one of the greatest meltdowns in postseason history. Personal fouls on Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones set up the Steelers’ winning field goal in the closing seconds.
The Bengals are in third place in the North, also trailing the Ravens (6-5). A loss to the Steelers would essentially end their chances of reaching the postseason.
“We’re 5-6 and we need this to stay alive,” Iloka said.
They have yet to beat an elite team. Two of the Bengals’ five wins have come against Cleveland. The other three are against Buffalo (6-5), Indianapolis (3-8) and Denver (3-8).
They close the season with games against the Steelers, the Bears (3-8), the Vikings (9-2), the Lions (6-5) and the Ravens.
“If we’re not a good team, it will show,” Iloka said. “If we’re a good team, it will show. This will be an opportunity to do it.”