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Lions try to stay in contention vs down-and-out Bengals

December 21, 2017

FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2017, file photo, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) throws against the Chicago Bears during an NFL football game in Detroit. The Lions play the down-and-out bengals on Sunday. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

CINCINNATI (AP) — Reaching the postseason was an annual thing when receiver Marvin Jones Jr. played four seasons with the Bengals.

He’s returning to Cincinnati for a game that his current team must win to have any chance of a playoff berth.

The Lions (8-6) seem to have everything in their favor.

They’re facing a down-and-out team that barely showed up for its past two games.

The Bengals (5-9) are gutted by injuries and running on fumes, getting blown out 67-14 in the past two games. And Marvin Lewis could be coaching his final game at Paul Brown Stadium, adding to the distractions for the home team.

The game will have extra significance for Jones, who was the Bengals’ top threat across from A.J. Green. Their offense hasn’t been the same since he left. Jones has no interest in reminiscing about the years that got his career started.

“No, not nostalgic or anything,” Jones said.

Maybe not, but surely significant.

Detroit still has a chance to do something memorable. The Lions are tied with the Cowboys and Seahawks, one game behind the Falcons for final NFC wild-card berth. They need to win their last two games — against the Bengals and at home against the eliminated Packers — to fulfill their part.

Whoever wins the game between the Cowboys and Seahawks on Sunday has to lose the following week. Atlanta has games left against New Orleans and Carolina. A lot has to break right for the Lions to get into the playoffs.

“They’ve overcome a lot of adversity over the year, and we’ve got a lot of football left to be played,” coach Jim Caldwell said.

The Bengals are out of contention again with back-to-back losing records for the first time since 2007-08. A lot could change with Lewis finishing his contract and likely headed out following his 15th season in Cincinnati.

A 23-20 loss to the Steelers — Cincinnati blew a 17-point lead — crushed their chances and left the roster depleted by injuries. They’re just trying to get through the last few games and head into an uncertain offseason.

“Very frustrating,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “It’s very demoralizing. But what are you going to do, quit or keep working at it?”

Some things to watch Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:

STAFFORD’S SPREE: Matthew Stafford has completed more than 75 percent of his passes in the past three games, the first Lions quarterback with such a feat. In the past three games overall, he has completed 80 percent (85 of 106) of his throws. He’ll be facing a depleted defense that got flattened by the Bears and the Vikings, but could be a little healthier this time around. He’ll be looking for Jones, who leads the team with 970 yards receiving and eight touchdowns.

“I think our system and the system he came from in Cincinnati is quite a bit different, and he did a great job of adjusting, putting the work in,” Stafford said. “And then, on Sundays he just goes out there and makes plays. I’m giving him chances on certain throws, and he’s going up and making me right more often than not.”

CAN SLAY GET ANOTHER ONE? Cornerback Darius Slay had two of the Lions’ three interceptions against the Bears last week, his second two-interception game this season. He leads the league with seven, and the Lions have three games with three interceptions this season. They’ll be facing Andy Dalton, who went a career-high 193 attempts without an interception before throwing three in the past two games, including one returned for a touchdown.

KINGS OF THE ROAD: The Lions have struggled at home, going only 3-4, but they’re 5-2 on the road. A win over the Bengals would give them six road victories for the first time since 1961, went they went 6-0-1 for the club record.

WILL THEY EVEN TRY? The Bengals were going through the motions in the past two games, getting blown out by teams that were clearly more focused and energized. Coaches talked to the players following a 33-7 loss to the Bears, but that was followed by a 34-7 loss to the Vikings that wasn’t any better.

“Complacency can set in, but that’s what you have to fight at this point,” Dalton said.

LEWIS’ FAREWELL? How will fans react to what’s likely to be the coach’s final home game at Paul Brown Stadium, which was the setting for some of his worst losses during his 15 seasons? Asked about it, Lewis said, “I have no idea.”

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AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.

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