Still in control of their playoff fate, the Cincinnati Bengals are focused on what lies ahead and not behind.
Looking to bounce back from their first loss in a month and remain undefeated at home, the Bengals can possibly secure a playoff berth and the AFC North title Sunday while trying to make sure the Minnesota Vikings go winless on the road for the third time in franchise history.
Riding a three-game winning streak in which it topped 40 points twice, Cincinnati (9-5) took a step back with last Sunday's 30-20 loss at Pittsburgh. The defeat was magnified a night later when Baltimore edged Detroit to move one game behind the first-place Bengals in the North.
Cincinnati, which lost to the Ravens last month, hosts them next week but can take some drama away by clinching the division with a win against the Vikings (4-9-1) and a Baltimore loss or tie against New England.
A Cincinnati victory plus a loss or tie by Miami in Buffalo on Sunday would secure a third straight playoff berth for the Bengals.
"We've got to go play and win football games," coach Marvin Lewis said. "We didn't win one. So we've got to win the next two. If we take care of that and take care of ourselves, that's all we have to worry about."
The Bengals were held to 279 total yards at Pittsburgh, falling to 2-2 this season when recording fewer than 300. Andy Dalton threw for 230 yards with two touchdowns and A.J. Green caught nine passes for 93, but Cincinnati's longest gain of the night covered 19 yards.
Cincinnati averaged 141.6 rushing yards in the previous five games but equaled a season low with 57 last weekend.
The Bengals also matched their season high for points allowed while yielding a touchdown reception and a 67-yard punt return score in the first quarter to Antonio Brown as the Steelers opened a 21-0 lead.
"There's no panic," Dalton said. "There's no worry about anything. We're not frantic. We still have two games at home and have everything to accomplish, so we've got to take care of our business."
Cincinnati has certainly taken care of matters at home, where it's 6-0, averages 33.2 points and has scored at least 41 in three consecutive games. The Bengals averaged 19.4 points on the road, where they finished with a losing record for the first time in three seasons.
Dalton has completed 63.0 percent of his passes and thrown only five of his 16 interceptions this season at Paul Brown Stadium. Of the 14 TDs he's thrown there, 11 have come over the last three contests.
While Cincinnati is trying to go undefeated at home for the first time since 1988, Minnesota hasn't gone winless on the road since 2001. The Vikings, who went 0-7 away from home during their inaugural season in 1961, are 0-6-1 on the road and did beat Pittsburgh in London while considered the home team.
Indianapolis was the last team to go without a road victory during its 2-14 season in 2011.
Though Minnesota hasn't played in Cincinnati since 2005, it's dropped two straight and five of six all-time there.
"We are going to emphasize (getting a road win)," said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who was Lewis' defensive coordinator in Cincinnati in 2003-04. "We want to win this final road game. It's important. It's our next game on our schedule and we are going to emphasize it for sure."
After missing last Sunday's 48-30 upset of Philadelphia, injured running backs Adrian Peterson (foot) and Toby Gerhart (hamstring) are expected to be available for a Vikings team that's dropped three road games by four or fewer points.
Matt Cassel threw for 382 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Greg Jennings set season highs with 11 catches and 163 yards plus a TD and third-stringer Matt Asiata rushed for three TDs during Minnesota's highest-scoring game of the season.
Though the Vikings won't be making a second straight playoff appearance, the focus remains on themselves and not the fate of their opponent.
"We don't use that word spoiler in our conversation," Frazier said. "We're trying our very best to work as hard as we can to get a win for our team and it's nothing to do with the impact it would have on any other team."
Set to make his third straight start, Cassel has thrown for 890 yards with five TDs and two INTs in the last three games.
Second in the NFL with 1,221 rushing yards, Peterson ran for 97 and two TDs on 26 carries during Minnesota's 30-10 home win over the Bengals in 2009.
The Associated Press News Service
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