CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals had an eventful bye weekend.
They gained ground on the Ravens, lost ground to the Steelers, and lost tight end Tyler Eifert for the rest of the season.
Their next step in trying to recover from an 0-3 start comes in Pittsburgh next Sunday. Cincinnati (2-3) needs a win in their lopsided series with the AFC North leaders in order to stay relevant in the division race.
The Steelers (4-2) can stretch their lead over the Bengals to 2½ games with a victory at Heinz Field.
The Bengals remain in third place in the division coming out of their bye.
The Ravens (3-3) lost to the Bears in overtime 27-24 on Sunday after tying the game with a punt return for a touchdown late in regulation. The Steelers played their best all-around game while sending Kansas City to its first loss 19-13 on Sunday .
The Bengals head into their game at Pittsburgh knowing they won’t have Eifert back this season. He had surgery on a back disc last December and reinjured his back during the second game of the season. He went on injured reserve on Thursday , ending his season while he considers another operation.
Eifert was Andy Dalton’s favorite option near the goal line, setting a club record for touchdown passes by a tight end with 13 in 2016. He missed half of last season because of ankle and back operations, and played in only two games this season.
His injury creates an opportunity for Tyler Kroft, a third-round pick in 2015 who caught 21 passes combined during his first two seasons. Kroft leads Bengals tight ends with 14 catches for 139 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Kroft took Eifert’s spot in the past three games, winning the coaches’ confidence that he can move into the role of starter.
“Every game you’re out there playing a lot, it builds your confidence,” Kroft said Monday. “I’ve had the opportunity to start the last couple of weeks, so I’m going to keep handling business that way. It’s really unfortunate what happened to Ty. I know it’s beaten him up.”
The Bengals’ offense has improved since Bill Lazor was promoted to offensive coordinator after the second game. Eifert was sidelined during the resurgence.
Kroft had four catches for 38 yards during a 20-16 win over the Bills, including catches of 11 and 15 yards during a drive to the clinching field goal in the fourth quarter.
“He had some plays there in the last drive for the field goal, big plays,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “He continues to do a good job and keeps growing.”
KIRKPATRICK PRACTICES; PACMAN SIDELINED
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was knocked out of the win over Buffalo with a shoulder injury. He participated in a practice Monday. Cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones didn’t participate in practice. He’s recovering from a back injury against Buffalo. Rookie receiver John Ross practiced as he recovers from a knee injury that he suffered during preseason and aggravated in the second game.
The Bengals are 8-22 against the Steelers during Lewis’ 14 seasons, including playoff losses at Paul Brown Stadium in 2005 and 2015. Pittsburgh has won seven of the past eight games in the series and 12 of the past 15. The Bengals have swept the season series only once during Lewis’ tenure, in 2009. The Steelers have swept the series seven times. Cincinnati’s previous win in Pittsburgh came in 2015 when running back Le’Veon Bell tore up a knee on a tackle by Vontaze Burfict, ending his season.
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