PHILADELPHIA -- The Cincinnati Bengals say they like where they are, and where they are is within striking distance of the playoffs. But who's kidding whom? If they continue to play as they played in Thursday's 34-13 defeat of Philadelphia they're toast.
It's not just that they were lackluster. They committed stupid penalties. They couldn't protect their quarterback. And their quarterback stunk. Yet they won ... only they really didn't. The Philadelphia Eagles gave this one away, and if you don't believe me you must have missed Philadelphia's four turnovers in a brutal six-and-half minute span of the second half.
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In all, the Eagles had five giveaways, plus a blocked punt -- with Matt McBriar kicking the ball off his own blocker. If you're looking for how Cincinnati survived a dismal performance, start there. All of their points were the products of Philadelphia mistakes. "I like our football team," said winning coach Marvin Lewis. "I just don't like how we play sometimes."
I don't like how they play now, and that's trouble for Cincinnati. Because now is when playoff teams are defined, and look at the past two weeks for the Bengals: They blew a game to Dallas, and they tried to blow another here. Now look what's ahead. There's Pittsburgh next weekend and Baltimore the week after that, and if the Bengals don't improve on their recent performances you can call for the check.
Because it's over.
"We are who we are," said Lewis. "We're going to fight and scratch every time we come out there. I like our situation in that we control us. All we can ask for in December is that we control what we can do. If we take care of business, we'll be where we want to be. "
That's a big if.
Of all the disturbing signs Thursday the most significant involved quarterback Andy Dalton, and the protection ... OK, lack of protection ... he was afforded. He was sacked six times. He fumbled twice. And when he was able to throw he didn't throw accurately. He was late with his deliveries. He was errant with his passes. In short, he wasn't the Andy Dalton who last year led the Bengals to the playoffs.
Not only did he complete fewer than 50 percent of his passes; he threw for 127 yards, with 86 in the last three quarters, and tell me how that's going to beat Pittsburgh -- because it's not. In fact, as bad as Dalton's totals were they weren't his worst of the season. Nope, that happened earlier this year against ... you guessed it ... Pittsburgh, next week's opponent.
Nevertheless, Dalton and his teammates remain undaunted.
"This is exactly where we wanted to be at the beginning of the season," he said afterward. "We wanted to be in December and have a chance for the playoffs, and that's exactly where we [are] ... and it's good to be in control of that."
In control of what?The Bengals were in control of nothing until Philadelphia, then on top, 13-10, came to the rescue by throwing an interception and losing three fumbles on three successive touches. That, in turn, had Cincinnati scoring 24 points in 3:23, and that, folks, is how this game was won ... or lost, depending on your perspective.
Yeah, I know, a win is a win is a win, but this win does nothing to strengthen Cincinnati's case for the playoffs. In fact, if anything, it undercuts it. The Bengals finish the season against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and what I know about those two is that they don't lose to Cincinnati. Not now, they don't. They won their last nine against the Bengals and are 6-0 against them since Dalton and A.J. Green arrived on the scene.
"After what happened here," I asked cornerback Adam Jones, "what makes you think you can beat them?"
"Why can't we?" he said. "The game this year ... we gave them that game (a 24-17 loss). Pittsburgh is good, too, but we need the game. Period. Point blank. We're going into a hostile environment playing one of the best teams in the league. Hopefully, we can bring our A game, and it'll be a good day."
"But if you play as you did [Thursday] would you be in trouble?" I asked.
"Yeah, we would," he said.
Score one for honesty.
Cincinnati's lackluster play was complicated by the losses of tackle Andrew Whitworth (concussion) and fullback Chris Pressley (knee). There's no word on Whitworth's availability for the Pittsburgh game, but early reports have Pressley lost for the season. That's not good, especially when you're trying to overcome division opponents who believe they own you -- mostly because they do.
"I like our chances," said cornerback Leon Hall, whose second-half interception keyed the turnaround. "But I like our chances going into every game. We know what's ahead of us. It's a [daunting] task. It's hard for anybody to go into Pittsburgh and win."
It's harder for Cincinnati ... especially playing as it is now.