DENVER (AP) By pulling off a rare win in Denver, the Cincinnati Bengals gave themselves a chance to do something that’s only been done four times since the NFL adopted its current 12-team playoff format in 1990: recover from a 3-6 start to get their names on the list for the postseason party.
The only teams to do it were the `94 Patriots, `95 Lions, `96 Jaguars and Washington five years ago.
The Bengals aim to be the fifth after beating the Broncos 20-17 Sunday on the strength of two takeaways and a blocked field goal after watching Brandon McManus’ 61-yarder just before halftime easily clear the crossbar after Lewis had called timeout.
Every year, there’s a team that gets hot when it gets cold, Lewis said.
”Last year, it was Green Bay,” which reached the playoffs with six straight wins following a 4-6 start, he noted. ”They ran the table and this year, it’s going to be somebody else.”
Why not his Bengals?
Aside from the AFC’s division leaders, there are nine teams with between four and six wins.
”There are a lot of teams in the situation we were in starting today and teams are going to get hot and get going,” Lewis said. ”We play some of them and they play each other. So we have an opportunity if we just handle our business.”
No team has ever reached the playoffs after starting 3-7, but ever after the Broncos lost their sixth straight game in the same season for the first time since 1990, Von Miller hasn’t lost hope.
”The best we can do is 9-7,” Miller said. ”If I’m a betting man, I’m going to bet on the Broncos to win out. That’s just the type of guy I am. I’m going to reload and get back in there tomorrow and keep pushing. That’s just how I’m built.”
The Broncos are 5-11 over their last 16 games, during which time their offense has averaged just 16 points a game. This skid coincided with the team putting replicas of the franchise’s three Super Bowl trophies on their locker room.
The Broncos visit Oakland (4-6) next week hoping to avoid their first seven-game skid since 1967, when Lou Saban’s team lost a franchise-record nine in a row.
Other takeaways from Denver’s first loss at home to the Bengals since 1975, when franchise founder Paul Brown was Cincinnati’s coach:
QUARTERBACK QUAGMIRE: It might be time for the Broncos to see conclusively if Paxton Lynch is a bust or just a late-bloomer.
”We’ll see,” coach Vance Joseph said. ”We’re going to watch the tape and see where we are as an offense. Obviously, he’s healthy now. He’s a young player with talent.”
Lynch dressed out for the first time this season, leapfrogging Trevor Siemian, who went from starter to inactive in three weeks.
But Lynch looked disengaged on the sideline where he didn’t talk to the coaches and had very little interaction with his teammates.
Even though he couldn’t beat out Siemian two straight summers, Lynch might end up rising to the top of Denver’s depth chart because Osweiler has completed just 53 percent of his passes with three TD throws and four interceptions.
Siemian had a 62 completion percentage with nine TDs, 10 interceptions and two lost fumbles while going 3-4.
”I’m never going to look over my shoulder,” Osweiler said.
WHO YOU CALLING SOFT ? The Broncos were unable to rally to victory 48 hours after their boss, GM John Elway, suggested his team had gotten soft after a 3-1 start that followed a perfect preseason.
While Joseph said he was taken aback but ultimately agreed, the vibe in the locker room was one of anger mixed with acceptance.
Here’s what cornerback Chris Harris Jr. had to say about Elway’s dig:
”Everybody in this organization is accountable for how we are playing right now.”
That evidently includes Elway, who hasn’t drafted an All-Pro since 2011 and has a spotty record in free agency since Peyton Manning’s retirement.
FAMILIAR FOE : It wasn’t the ending to the reunion that Broncos nose tackle Domata Peko Sr. was envisioning. Peko spent 11 seasons with the Bengals before joining the Broncos this spring.
”It was really emotional because I was there for a decade,” said Peko, who led the Broncos with six tackles. ”That’s all I knew was Bengals football. All I knew was Paul Brown Stadium and the Jungle. It was part of me. For me to lose, that really hurt me personally. It also hurts as a team, of course.”
THE TAKEAWAY: Osweiler’s interception in the end zone that led to Cincinnati’s first touchdown and C.J. Anderson’s fumble that led to the Bengals’ final TD brought Denver to minus-16 in takeaways.
”I just can’t do that to my teammates. It just hurts,” Anderson said through sobs.
As for why the defense can’t seem to force more turnovers, Derek Wolfe was at a loss.
”If you see me, I’m making tackles trying to rip it out,” Wolfe said. ”They’re just not letting it go. You have to talk to them. Tell them to let it go.”
TERRIFIC TRAYLOR : First-year pro Austin Traylor, who had just 20 catches in four years at Wisconsin, had four receptions for 36 yards in his NFL debut. The Broncos promoted him from their practice squad Saturday after waiving injured tight end A.J. Derby (shoulder), who was let go despite being the most productive tight end on the roster and being tied for the team lead with two TD catches.
Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed.
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