CINCINNATI — The AFC North race, just like so many Bengals games, is far from finished.
Cincinnati has lost back-to-back games in overtime, wasting a chance to take a commanding lead in their division.
Now the Bengals (6-4) are only one game ahead of the Ravens (4-5) and the Browns (4-5) in the loss column.
Stirring comebacks have led to hollow endings in each of the past two games.
And now, first place is no longer such a secure place. The Browns come to town on Sunday with a chance to sweep their season series and elbow their way into the front of the pack.
“We pushed things forward very positively, now we’ve dug a little bit of a hole and we’ve got to climb out and play better this week against the Browns,” coach Marvin Lewis said on Monday.
They’ve become good at digging themselves out of holes, only to fall back in during overtime.
They overcame a 17-3 deficit in the second half at Miami before losing 22-20 in overtime when Andy Dalton was sacked in the end zone for a safety. They overcame a 17-0 halftime deficit on Sunday at Baltimore, tying the game on A.J. Green’s tipped catch with no time left in regulation. It wasn’t enough as the Ravens won 20-17.
Two strange endings. Rare ones, too.
The Bengals are only the 16th team in NFL history to lose back-to-back games in overtime, according to STATS LLC. Miami was the last team to do it, dropping two in a row in OT last season.
Cincinnati has played three overtime games this season, all on the road. The Bengals won in Buffalo 27-24, leaving them 1-2 in OT games. The NFL record for overtime games in a season is five by the 1983 Packers.
Most overtime losses in a season? Three, by six different teams: 1983 Packers (2-3), 1983 Buccaneers (0-3), 1983 Oilers (0-3), 1997 Cardinals (1-3), 2010 Bills (0-3) and 2012 Jaguars (0-3).
They’re getting a lot of practice at it.
“You can’t simulate overtime,” safety George Iloka said on Monday. “We’ve had three overtime games this year, so that will come in handy later in the year with the ‘P’ word, if we’re in that.”
He meant the playoffs. And Cincinnati is still in good position to get there.
The Bengals have four of their last six games at home, where they’re 4-0. They also have a bye week coming. Only one of the last six teams they play has a winning record — Indianapolis, which has to play at Paul Brown Stadium.
“We know what we have in front of us,” cornerback Terence Newman said. “We just have to win some football games.”
One of the common themes in the two has been the offense’s horrible start. The Bengals managed only three points total in the first half against Miami and Baltimore. Dalton has followed the best three-game stretch of his career with two subpar games.
Dalton has completed only 54 percent of his passes in the past two games with two touchdowns, four interceptions and 10 sacks. His combined passer rating for the two games is 64.9, well below average.
He repeatedly sailed passes on Sunday and took a sack in the closing seconds, forcing the Bengals to make a desperation throw.
The pass was swatted around before it deflected directly to Green, who was to the side of the scrum for a 51-yard touchdown catch that sent it to overtime.
Dalton was 24 of 51 for 274 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions on Sunday.
Lewis defended his quarterback, saying he made a “brilliant” play to spike the ball with 2 seconds left after taking a sack with no timeouts left. Lewis said his receivers dropped five passes that made things much tougher.
He noted that rookie tight end Tyler Eifert couldn’t make a diving catch in the end zone while getting hit, forcing the Bengals to settle for a field goal on the opening drive of the second half.
“But the great location of the ball by Andy, just where it needs to be against a defense he saw — again, another great play by Andy,” Lewis said. “We’ve got to help him out and finish the deal.”
Notes: The Bengals signed DE Aston Whiteside, a first-year player from Abilene Christian who spent most of last season on Chicago’s practice squad and was released by the Bears on Oct. 8. The Bengals released DE DeQuin Evans, who has spent part of the past three seasons on their practice squad.