Bengals’ banged-up defense to face high-powered Chiefs
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Marvin Lewis flipped on tape of the Kansas City Chiefs this week and saw Tyreek Hill moving all over the field, Kareem Hunt bulldozing for first downs, Travis Kelce making acrobatic catches, and Patrick Mahomes delivering the ball to all of them.
Then he was asked what worries him most about facing the Chiefs on Sunday night.
“Everything,” Lewis said, adding a halfhearted laugh.
Yes, the banged-up Bengals (4-2) and their struggling defense are headed to Arrowhead Stadium for a high-profile showdown against quite possibly the most dynamic offense in the NFL.
They are also doing it with a handful of guys ailing or injured, notably in a secondary that will have to find a way to slow Hill and Kelce. All those injuries nearly crippled the Bengals last week, when Pittsburgh drove the length of the field in the fourth quarter for the winning touchdown.
“It makes it harder, yeah,” Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap said, “but we have 1A and 1B. Everybody is trained to get in the game because you’re always one play away. You never know when it is.”
Injuries aren’t an excuse, either.
“”We’ve got guys down. I believe in those (backup) guys,” Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “I feel we’ve got all the tools, even the backup guys, to beat this team.”
The Chiefs (5-1), who are coming off their first loss last Sunday night in New England, know all about being hurt. They remain without injured safeties Eric Berry, Daniel Sorensen and Armani Watts, top pass rusher Justin Houston and two starters on the offensive line.
They still have Mahomes, though. Not to mention all his weapons.
That group struggled in the first half against the Patriots, but adjustments at halftime opened up things. Mahomes wound up throwing four TD passes, three to Hill, and the Chiefs nearly outscored Tom Brady and Co. in what became an entertaining shootout.
“Everyone is still in great spirits,” Mahomes said after his first loss as a starting quarterback, which came seven games into his NFL career. “We know there’s a lot of season left. There’s going to be ups and downs, but you have to know that’s going to happen. It’s how you respond that matters.”
Mahomes said the vibe all week has been positive, and that the loss to New England only served to embolden a team with Super Bowl aspirations. After all, the Chiefs trailed most of the way, on the road and in prime time, and nearly came back to steal a victory.
“We finished hard. We fought every play,” Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins said. “You saw the grit on the sideline and we’re here to build on that. You’re not going to lead every game 28-0.”
As the Bengals try to slow down Kansas City, here are some things to know:
There were no fewer than 15 players listed on Cincinnati’s initial injury report this week, and six of those didn’t participate at all to start the week. That included three defensive players in cornerback Darqueze Dennard, linebacker Nick Vigil and safety Shawn Williams.
FLEX AND POSE
The Chiefs’ high-flying offense and the Bengals’ strong start resulted in the game being flexed by NBC to Sunday night. It was originally supposed to be a noon CDT kickoff.
“Every game is a big stage. This is the NFL,” Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said, dismissing the fact they’re in prime time for the second straight week. “You want to play every game like it’s your last.”
ON THE HUNT
The Chiefs have leaned on Hunt late in games to protect leads, but he was a big part of their comeback a week ago. Hunt ran for 80 yards on just 10 carries and caught five passes for 105 yards and a score. He also was overthrown down the middle of the field on what could have been another long TD reception.
“You can’t miss those when you play really good teams,” Mahomes said.
The Bengals’ 28-21 loss to Pittsburgh wiped out much of their early momentum and evened things in the AFC North. It was another stunning loss against their biggest nemesis — the Steelers have won seven straight in the series, including a comeback win in the 2015 playoffs. They know they can’t afford another bad showing in Kansas City as they approach the midway point of the season.
“I would say we do have a chip on our shoulders,” defensive end Jordan Willis said.
WHAT ABOUT BURFICT
In his second game back from his latest NFL suspension, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was on the field for 84 percent of the defense’s plays against Pittsburgh and finished second with eight tackles and two passes deflected. He also was in the middle of several altercations, trading words with Ben Roethlisberger, stepping over James Conner in the end zone, and hitting Antonio Brown in the head with his forearm after a reception.
Burfict has been suspended three times by the league and was ejected from a game last season. The Bengals need him to continue making an impact on games, without the drama.
“Vontaze can be as great as he wants to be,” Dunlap said.