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Bengals looking to avoid 3-game losing streak

CINCINNATI (AP) — The four-game lead in the loss column has been trimmed in half. Consecutive losses in prime time have fans wondering about the Bengals all over again. Is this the start of another second-half slide?

Cincinnati (8-2) has a chance to calm them down on Sunday.

The Bengals will play their first afternoon game at Paul Brown Stadium since Oct. 11, a return to the routine that helped them get off to the best start in franchise history. And they’re facing one of the league’s worst offenses in the St. Louis Rams (4-6), who have dropped three in a row.

“We’re just trying to get right after these two stumbles we had,” defensive tackle Domata Peko said. “We had a little bit of a setback there, but we’re going to use the setback to set up something good. It’s not about how you fall down but about how you pick yourself back up.”

The Bengals lead Pittsburgh (6-4) in the AFC North and get to host the Steelers on Dec. 13, so they’re still in control — providing they don’t have another slip. They haven’t lost three games in a row since the 2012 season.

Cincinnati fumbled in the final minute of a 10-6 loss to Houston, and let Arizona drive in the final minute for a winning field goal on Sunday night.

“When you get those chances, you’ve got to make those plays,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “In both games, we had chances to win and we didn’t make the play. I still think there’s a lot of positives you can take from it.”

The Rams are trying to piece something together on offense.

Quarterback Case Keenum cleared the concussion protocol and practiced Wednesday, so he’ll make his second straight start. The Rams are second to last in the league in total yards, and last in yards passing. A big part of the problem is an offensive line that’s been in flux because of injuries.

“It’s kind of a tough adjustment,” rookie running back Todd Gurley said. “You’ve got four guys down, so that’s always going to be a tough adjustment, new guys coming in.”

Some things to watch at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday:

GET IT TO GIO: Giovani Bernard set a Bengals record for a running back with 128 yards receiving in the 34-31 loss at Arizona. He leads the team in yards from scrimmage with 891 and is the leading rusher with 565 yards. His style suits Cincinnati’s pass-heavy offense this season, and he’s likely to play a prominent role again Sunday.

“(Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson) just finds a way to get me the ball,” Bernard said. “That’s all you can really worry about. It doesn’t matter how, whether it’s a run play or pass play.”

DONALD AND ATKINS: The game matches two of NFL’s top defensive tackles. The Rams’ Aaron Donald and the Bengals’ Geno Atkins have seven sacks each, tied for league lead by interior linemen. Their ability to get pressure on the quarterback from the middle of the line makes plays break down.

DALTON SCRAMBLES: Dalton matched his career high with eight scrambles for 34 yards in Arizona. He ran 24 times in the last four games, some coming off designed quarterback runs. Dalton’s scrambling has improved, giving blitzing defenses another concern.

“When that stuff happens, it’s kind of backyard football at that point,” said Dalton, who has run 51 times this season. “If I can scramble and get good yardage, I will.”

O-LINE SHUFFLE: The Rams’ offensive struggles start with a line that’s been a patchwork of rookies filling spots, with only left tackle Greg Robinson and center Tim Barnes in place the entire season. Seventh-round pick Demetrius Rhaney gets his first career start at left guard after making his debut last week. Right guard Cody Wichmann, a sixth-rounder, made his first career start last week.

GURLEY STIFLED: Gurley had 66 yards with a 2.6-yard average last week, with a long carry of only 7 yards against the Ravens. He’s the first rookie in NFL history to rush for 125 yards or more in his first four starts, and he’s fourth in the league overall, but he’s been limited to 200 total yards in the last three games. The coaches changed some running plays for the game against the Bengals to try to get him free.

“Coaches have been doing a great job all year, but they implemented some new runs and we’ll try them out this week and see how they go,” he said.

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AP Sports Writer R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis contributed to this report.

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