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Bengals back to a familiar place for the franchise: Mired in season-scuttling slump

The Bengals are back on oh-so-familiar ground, caught in the deep slump that threatens their season at the midpoint.

Happens a lot in Cincinnati.

A 31-23 loss to Denver on Sunday left the Bengals (3-5) with a four-game losing streak. They've had a losing streak of at least four games in 16 of their last 22 seasons. Twice, they lost 10 in a row.

In five of those seasons, they've had a pair of losing streaks that went on for at least four games. Overall, it's their 21st losing streak of four games or more during those 22 seasons.

After going to the playoffs last season as a 9-7 wild card team, they're going to be hard-pressed to get back. They play the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants (6-3) on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Bengals knew their season could come down to how they did during a stretch of home games against the Steelers, Broncos and Giants. After blowing an early lead and losing 24-17 to Pittsburgh, they needed to beat the Broncos to keep up in the AFC.

They wasted that chance, too. Now, a loss to the Giants will make them a long shot for another wild card berth.

"It was urgent last week," safety Chris Crocker said on Monday. "It was urgent the week before that. There's really no heightened sense of urgency. We're a very urgent team."

The division race is fast slipping away. The Bengals are 1-3 against the rest of the AFC North, trailing first-place Baltimore by three games and Pittsburgh by two at the season's midpoint. The wild card tiebreakers also are against them — a 2-5 mark against the AFC overall.

The last two games have stung the most.

They blew a 14-3 first-half lead over Pittsburgh, which pulled it out despite missing its top two running backs and two offensive linemen to injury. They led the Broncos 20-17 early in the fourth quarter on Sunday, then fell apart.

Peyton Manning went 6 for 6 for 69 yards and a pair of touchdowns the rest of the way. The Broncos held Andy Dalton to 6-of-11 passing for 48 yards with a sack and an interception. And the offense had its worst moments with the game on the line.

Trailing 24-20 with 11:47 to go, the Bengals got the ball at their 27-yard line. A pair of holding penalties and a false start wiped out a third-down completion and left the Bengals with a third-and-25 at their 18-yard line.

Dalton was hit as he threw toward a covered A.J. Green, resulting in an underthrown pass that was intercepted by Champ Bailey. The Broncos went in for their final touchdown.

The Bengals also had a pass-interference penalty on cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones that set up the Broncos' go-ahead touchdown. Jones grabbed the front of Demaryius Thomas' jersey while breaking up a pass in the end zone, resulting in a 29-yard penalty that put the ball at the 1-yard line.

In large measure, they did it to themselves.

"The penalties in the fourth quarter ended up being very significant," coach Marvin Lewis said. "We had four penalties in fourth quarter that really made an impact, for sure."

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NOTES: The Bengals signed LB J.K. Schaffer to their practice squad. Schaffer grew up in Cincinnati and played for the University of Cincinnati. Schaffer signed with Jacksonville as an undrafted rookie, played in all four preseason games and was waived. He also spent time on Tampa Bay's practice squad. ... The Bengals will become the second team to host back-to-back games against Peyton and Eli Manning. The Titans did it in 2006 and won both games.

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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