CINCINNATI (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals moved one game above .500 before their bye week and, despite some significant injuries, are feeling pretty good about themselves.
The Bengals improved to 5-4 with a 42-21 win over Carolina on Sunday that was a more thorough beating than the score indicated. They did it without their best receiver, Ja’Marr Chase, and their top cornerback, Chidobe Awuzie, both of whom are injured.
Some perspective: Cincinnati stood at 5-4 after nine games last season, went 5-3 the rest of the way and then embarked on a memorable playoff run that run that took the Bengals to the Super Bowl for the first time in 33 years.
Despite some maddening inconsistency, the Bengals know everything they want is still well within their reach, especially when they have ultra-confident quarterback Joe Burrow running the offense.
“I think our guys are in a good place right now,” coach Zac Taylor said.
Suddenly, the run game. The overhauled offensive line has been criticized for failing to open holes for Cincinnati’s running backs, not to mention provide better protection for Burrow. The Bengals’ failure to establish the run had limited Joe Mixon’s role. After an embarrassing Monday night loss at Cleveland, the Bengals scored early and often against Carolina, with Mixon rushing for 153 yards and four touchdowns, his first 100-yard effort of the season. Burrow called it the team’s most complete game of the season.
“You’d love to do exactly what we did (Sunday),” Burrow said. “We’re running the ball, we’re play action, and we’re dropping back, throwing screens. When you’re multiple like that, it’s tough to stop.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Cincinnati is going to need more consistency. Its first three losses came by a total of eight points. The Monday night 32-13 rout by the Browns was difficult to explain, and it was bookended by dominant wins over the Falcons and Panthers.
“We have to find wins, scrape them out any way we can,” Burrow said. “Not every day will be like (the Panthers win), so we have to find ways to win games down the stretch, where it’s not perfect but you find a way to win.”
Mixon topped 100 yards for the first time since he ran for a career-high 165 against Pittsburgh last Nov. 28. His five touchdowns — four rushing, one receiving — was a franchise record. Honorable mention to the offensive line.
“I’m just happy that I rose to the occasion,” the sixth-year back said. ” My game rose, I’m here in this position, and I never take it for granted.”
First-round draft pick Dax Hill was forced into action because the Bengals are so thin at cornerback. He was in coverage when Carolina scored its first touchdown Sunday and then left with a shoulder injury. It’s not clear how long he will be out.
Awuzie (knee) landed on injured reserve. … Chase (hip) wasn’t put on the injured list but it’s not clear when he’ll be able to play. … RB Chris Evans left Sunday’s game with a knee injury. … CBs Mike Hilton and Tre Flowers also were out Sunday with injuries.
464 — Yards gained by the Cincinnati offense last Sunday, a season high.
The Bengals have plenty of positive vibes going into their off week, which will provide some extra healing time for those who are a little bit banged up. They play at Pittsburgh on Nov. 20. Cincinnati went 0-3 against AFC North opponents in the first half, including a Week 1 loss to the Steelers — who’ve only won one game since.