CINCINNATI (AP) With their defense unable to stop anybody, the Buccaneers fired their coordinator and got a better showing and a slump-busting win the next time out.
The Bengals won’t be doing anything so drastic, even though they’ve got significant issues that came to the forefront during their second-worst drubbing under coach Marvin Lewis. All they can do is hope players get healthy and things get better before it all slips away.
Their matchup Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium could be a pivotal moment heading into the season’s midpoint.
“I still believe we’re in great shape,” Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd said. “I don’t think we’re a bad team or we’re coming off a week we can’t overcome. But we’ve got to tighten up now.”
Tampa Bay (3-3) ended a three-game slide that cost defensive coordinator Mike Smith his job. He was replaced last week by former Bucs assistant coach Mark Duffner, who simplified the game plan. The Buccaneers held Cleveland to 305 total yards and had five sacks during a 26-23 overtime victory .
The showing was encouraging, and so is the upcoming schedule. Tampa Bay is nearing the end of a stretch of four road games out of five, with one more at Carolina next week. Then the Buccaneers play four of five at home.
“How we won the game Sunday if we continue doing that, I think we’ll be fine,” said defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who has had a sack in each of the last five games.
It’s not so clear cut for the Bengals (4-3), who have squandered much of their fast start with a last-minute home loss to Pittsburgh and a 45-10 loss at Kansas City last Sunday night. The defense got shredded for 551 yards, the offense managed a season-low 239 total yards, and there were missed tackles and botched plays that figured in their second-biggest margin of defeat during Lewis’ 16 seasons.
The game on Sunday begins a favorable stretch for the Bengals: four of five at home. They’ve already fallen out of first place in the AFC North and can’t slip any more behind.
“This game is important for us, and we want to end the first half of the season the right way,” quarterback Andy Dalton said.
Five things to watch at Paul Brown Stadium:
The Buccaneers’ defense was much better vs. Cleveland, but it still ranks last in pass defense. Middle linebacker Kwon Alexander and backup linebacker Jack Cichy suffered season-ending knee injuries against the Browns, forcing a shuffle at the position. Adarius Taylor moves from outside linebacker to the middle, and Devante Bond who rejoined the team last week after being released in September takes over at the outside spot.
“That’s a great linebacker we lost,” Pierre-Paul said of Alexander.
Jameis Winston makes his third start since returning from a suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The Buccaneers’ offense is ranked No. 1 in the league. Winston threw for 365 yards against the Browns but was sacked four times, threw a pair of interceptions and lost a fumble, a reminder of his biggest problem: turnovers.
“It’s costing us points and putting us at risk,” offensive coordinator Todd Monken said.
Dalton got off to his best start since 2015 , throwing for 11 touchdowns in the first four games. The offense has stalled in the last three, with Dalton throwing for only four touchdowns. The Bengals have been hurt by the loss of two tight ends and running back Giovani Bernard. They were one-dimensional in the drubbing at Kansas City, with receiver A.J. Green accounting for 110 of their 139 total yards in the first half. They’ll be looking to get running back Joe Mixon and the other receivers more heavily involved against the Buccaneers.
“A.J. is going to get his he deserves it, and he should,” Dalton said. “He’s a big part of why this offense has been successful throughout the years. But if we can spread the ball around, it helps.”
FLAT AND FLATTENED
The Bengals’ defense played its sloppiest game in Kansas City, with missed tackles helping the Chiefs pile up those 551 yards. Cincinnati’s defense is ranked second to last in the league in yards allowed and third worst in points allowed.
“We’ve just got to have that fire,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “We didn’t play with enough fire.”
Lewis and Bucs coach Dirk Koetter have been close friends since they were teammates at Idaho State from 1978-80. They were in each other’s weddings. They remain close even as they get set to try to beat each other.
“When you’re playing each other, I don’t know if you’d say it’s special because both guys want their team to win,” Koetter said. “We’ll be rooting against each other.”
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall contributed to this report.
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