Bill Kostroun
November 15, 2016

CINCINNATI (AP) The defending AFC North champions had a bye week to regain their confidence, fix their problems and go after another title that's tantalizing close.

Instead, the Bengals opened the second half of their season with all of the same issues and now one less chance to save their season.

It's begun to slip away.

The Bengals' 21-20 loss to the Giants on Monday night left them with a 3-5-1 record that's their worst in six years - before Andy Dalton and A.J. Green came aboard - and a sense that they're making no progress in the areas where they keep coming up short.

In its past five games, Cincinnati is 1-3-1 with a victory over winless Cleveland and a tie with Washington.

''The frustration for me is very high right now,'' said cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who intercepted Eli Manning. ''For us not to win this game that we needed, it's heartbreaking.''

And puzzling, too.

The Bengals are one of the healthiest teams in the NFL, so injuries can't explain their dramatic drop-off from a year ago when they tied the franchise record with 12 wins. They're running the same plays that worked a year ago, with most of the same players.

When they have a chance to take control of a game the way they did last season, they simply can't do it.

The Bengals went up 20-14 on New York midway through the third quarter and had chances to pull away.

They got the ball five more times and managed a total of only 47 yards and three first downs, one of them by penalty. Dalton was 3 of 11 for 29 yards with an interception and two sacks on those final five possessions.

''It's like we just needed that one play to get us going, and we never got it,'' said Dalton, who was 16 of 29 overall for 204 yards with a touchdown , an interception and three sacks.

The defense has been one of the biggest problems all season, and it had a game-ending letdown.

The Giants got the ball back at their 41-yard line with 3:01 left, plenty of time for Cincinnati to get another shot at a winning field goal if the defense could hold. The Bengals knew the Giants would run the ball, so they stacked the line. New York ran five consecutive times for 38 yards and two first downs, draining the clock.

The loss represented a missed chance to close in on first place. Baltimore leads with a 5-4 mark, followed by Pittsburgh at 4-5 and then the Bengals, who are a game and a half out with two teams to overtake.

They still have both games left with Baltimore as well as a home game against the Steelers, but the loss to New York leaves them with no margin for error in the last seven weeks.

The Bengals host Buffalo on Sunday, then go to Baltimore for what could be the pivotal game of their season.

''Yes, we're running out of time,'' Kirkpatrick said. ''At the end of the day, with some of the teams losing, that puts us in a decent situation. But we have to get our wins.''

Notes: DE Margus Hunt was inactive for the first time this season, an indication the coaching staff isn't pleased with his play. Hunt got a bigger role in the line rotation this season after Wallace Gilberry left for Detroit as a free agent. The Bengals re-signed Gilberry during their bye week, and he moved into Hunt's role. ... Gilberry suffered an abdominal injury after four games with Detroit and was released with a settlement. He was on the field for 30 of the defense's 75 plays against the Giants and had one tackle.

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