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Bengals' Dunlap: Next two games 'crucial'

By Carlos "Big C" Holmes
Dayton Daily News/Cox News Service

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals were looked upon as one of the league’s best entering the season. But that now appears to have been smoke and mirrors after a three-game skid heading into the bye week. Sunday’s night 24-17 loss to Pittsburgh was the latest and maybe the most demoralizing of the defeats. 

"Pittsburgh's offense really didn't do anything special, but made plays when they needed to," defensive end Carlos Dunlap said after the game. "We have to get better during the bye week. These last three weeks were games we were in and fought hard but didn't win. No matter how good you play and don't get that win, you didn't play good enough. We have to figure out what's going to get us that win. Our next two games are crucial and we must get things turned around."

Cincinnati's 3-4 record is good for third place in the AFC North. The team's schedule doesn't get any easier coming off the bye week with the Denver Broncos and defending champion New York Giants visiting Paul Brown Stadium.

The Bengals were able to get pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and got him off his mark at times. But Roethlisberger is at his best improvising and keeping plays alive. Dunlap believes the defense didn't do enough to harass Big Ben and improvement is needed on both sides of the ball.

"There are a lot of spotty good things that you can say about the Bengals right now," Dunlap said. "But those spotty areas have to be more consistent. We have to learn to take over and dominate the game as a defense. When all three phases click together, offense, defense and special teams, those are the games we're going to win. We just have to get better at carrying out our responsibilities and make sure everybody is in sync."

Dunlap said the defensive line will have to get after Broncos QB Peyton Manning or it will be a long day. He admits it will be tough with the Fort Knox protection of the Denver offensive line. However, it’s the defense’s responsibility to put Manning on his backside.

In the locker room, Dunlap pointed the finger at no one but himself for a subpar performance. The third-year player knows what he's capable of on the field. He began his career like a house on fire, producing 9.5 sacks his rookie season. Dunlap posted 4.5 sacks during an injury-riddled 2010 season and has one so far this season. Defensive end Robert Geathers started and received most of the reps over a healthy Dunlap against Pittsburgh. This apparently was a wakeup call for the talented pass rusher. He's now on a mission to prove to coaches he is no one-hit wonder.

"I have to convince the coaches on this bye week so I can get more reps," Dunlap said. "I feel like if I'm out there a little bit more I can make a few more plays and get in rhythm quicker. I'm ready to take my game up a notch. I have to prove to them that I'm a starter as well as a closer."