The type of urgency that's been smothering the St. Louis Rams is starting to set in for the Cincinnati Bengals.
While the desperation for one will be relieved, it will heighten for the other when the Rams visit the Bengals on Sunday.
Three consecutive losses have left the Rams (4-6) in danger of exiting the playoff picture, while a third straight for the Bengals (8-2) would threaten their division title hopes - which at one point seemed inevitable.
Cincinnati was off to a franchise-best start two weeks ago and held a four-game advantage in the loss column ahead of Pittsburgh in the AFC North, but back-to-back losses have opened the door for the Steelers (6-4), who visit Cincinnati on Dec. 13.
The Bengals haven't lost three straight since dropping four in a row midway through the 2012 season.
"The best football starts getting played now in November and December and January," offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. "You have to get hot. You have to catch your groove back again so that you can be one of those teams that can be hitting the stride at the right time."
The Bengals stumbled with an embarrassing 10-6 loss to Houston in front of a national Monday night audience Nov. 16, and a field goal in the closing seconds of last week's 34-31 loss at Arizona denied them a rebound win.
Their play was sloppy with 19 penalties for 178 yards in the losses, while quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked eight times for his highest two-game total this season.
Cincinnati's defense allowed a league-low 16.9 points per game through the first nine weeks but surrendered 27 in the second half against the Cardinals.
Dalton was questioned for his big-game ability after the prime-time loss to the Texans, and he missed an open A.J. Green on a key third down during the Bengals' final drive against Arizona, which ended with a tying field goal.
He still threw for 315 yards and two scores, working the Bengals back from 28-14 and 31-21 deficits in the fourth quarter.
"I think the one thing you can take from this is that there's no quit," Dalton said. "We fought until the very end and that's good to see. We've got to keep that mentality. We've got to keep doing that."
The Rams need a change after a trio of losses and an iffy quarterback situation have them in danger of a 12th consecutive season without a winning record. They'll have to catch themselves against Cincinnati and Arizona (8-2) over the next two weeks.
"We're trying to dig ourselves out of a hole," tight end Lance Kendricks said. "Hopefully, we have it in us. I know we do."
A sobering scenario this week took the focus off the field.
Wide receiver Stedman Bailey was shot in the head Tuesday while sitting in a parked car outside a home in the Miami area, where he attended high school. Bailey, serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, was in intensive care but in stable condition Wednesday after surgery and is expected to recover.
Bailey was eligible to return in two weeks from his second suspension, but coach Jeff Fisher says he does not expect the third-year receiver to play this season.
It remains uncertain whether quarterback Case Keenum will get what will be his second start in place of benched Nick Foles. Keenum suffered a concussion late in last week's 16-13 loss at Baltimore on a sack that was nullified by a penalty.
Keenum continued to play after showing obvious signs he'd suffered a head injury, leading to criticism of how the situation was handled by the Rams and the NFL. He split practice reps with Foles on Wednesday and Friday but has yet to pass the concussion protocol.
St. Louis has lost four of five road games, including its last three, and had a chance to win following Keenum's injury, but he was sacked on the Rams' 41-yard line and lost a fumble with 1:00 left to set up Justin Tucker's winning field goal.
The involvement of two playmakers is high on the fix-it list for St. Louis. Running back Todd Gurley became the first rookie to run for at least 125 yards in his first four starts Oct. 4-Nov. 1, but has totaled 200 in his last three while averaging 3.3 per carry.
Wide receiver Tavon Austin finished with one carry for 16 yards and one catch for five more against Baltimore.
"It's a little frustrating, but all we want to do is win," Gurley said.