CINCINNATI (AP) The Bengals' defense finally got its act together after three rough weeks, holding down Baltimore just enough to pull out a pivotal win. The challenge is to keep it going without Cincinnati's best defensive player.
Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict will miss at least the next two games following surgery on his left knee on Wednesday. The Bengals (4-2-1) host Jacksonville (1-7) on Sunday, then play the Browns at Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday night.
Burfict missed two games and parts of others with concussions early this season. Coordinator Paul Guenther pointed out that the defense runs smoother and plays better all-around when Burfict is on the field.
''He's one of our best players, everybody knows that,'' Guenther said. ''The main thing with Vontaze: He's the extension of me out there. He understands what I'm talking to him about between plays, what to alert the other guys. He understands what defenses I want to get in and out of.
''So somebody else is going to have to take that role this week and we'll have to go along with it.''
Burfict hurt his knee in the first quarter, had it examined and returned for the rest of the game. He had arthroscopic surgery on Wednesday to remove debris.
The next two weeks will be a challenge because linebacker Rey Maualuga also is sidelined indefinitely with an injured left hamstring. Maualuga didn't practice on Wednesday and was limited to working out in a T-shirt and shorts.
''It's just the way it's been this year,'' Guenther said. ''Sometimes you're fortunate to have guys stay for the whole year, and sometimes you've got to move some pieces around. In my case, I've got to move some pieces around.''
The Bengals also missed Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green for the last three games because of an injured right big toe. He returned to practice on Wednesday on a limited basis and reported no problems, an indication he could play against the Jaguars.
''Go day-by-day and do a little bit more tomorrow and see how it goes,'' Green said. ''I think I'll be fine.''
The defense has been the biggest concern. It allowed 505, 431 and 506 yards in the three consecutive games, resulting in two losses and a tie. On Sunday, the Ravens managed only 294 yards, their second-lowest total of the season. Joe Flacco finished with a passer rating of 43.1, going 17 of 34 for 195 yards with two interceptions and a sack by Geno Atkins.
It was Atkins' first sack since recovering from a torn ACL suffered last Oct. 31 in Miami.
''Probably his best game so far,'' Guenther said. ''He played pretty good in the run game, he had a couple good pressures. So he's coming along good. I think it's this week a year ago where he got his injury.
''He's really starting to get back into the Geno we need to have around here. We need him playing at that level.''
The defense finished third overall in the NFL last season and was solid as the Bengals got off to a 3-0 start this year. Then came that three-game collapse when the line got very little pressure on quarterbacks and teams found it easy to run or pass.
After a 43-17 loss to New England, a 37-37 tie with Carolina and a 27-0 loss to Indianapolis, the defense was ranked second-to-last in the NFL in yards allowed. The win over Baltimore was encouraging.
''That's how we started the season, playing defense like that,'' safety George Iloka said. ''We had spurts of showing what we're capable of. It's improvement, it's positive, but we need to continue to get better. It only gets harder from here on out.''
Notes: RG Kevin Zeitler missed practice on Wednesday, working out on the side. He aggravated his right calf on Sunday. Zeitler missed three games earlier this season because of a strained calf, but the latest injury isn't as serious. ... RB Giovani Bernard missed practice while getting treated for a sore shoulder and hip. ... The Bengals expect to sell enough tickets for the game to be shown on local television.
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