The Bengals' road to the playoffs would have been difficult with a loss Thursday night in Baltimore, regardless of the health situation of their quarterback. With dark clouds looming over Joe Burrow's torn ligament in his right wrist -- a season-ending injury -- nary a ray of sunshine lights Cincinnati on Friday.
Cincy sits 5-5, No. 10 in the AFC ahead of the rest of Week 11's games, and well behind the AFC North-leading Ravens at 8-3. Thursday's loss pushed the Bengals to 0-3 in division games this season, including twice to Baltimore.
The Bengals remaining seven games are a gauntlet:
Week 12: vs. Pittsburgh (6-3)
Week 13: at Jacksonville (6-3)
Week 14: vs. Indianapolis (5-5)
Week 15: vs. Minnesota (6-4)
Week 16: at Pittsburgh (6-3)
Week 17: at Kansas City (7-2)
Week 18: vs. Cleveland (6-3)
Clawing back in the race would be a tricky proposition after the early-season stumbles even with Burrow healthy.
"It's big. He's a top two quarterback in this league," cornerback Mike Hilton said of Burrow's loss, via the team's official website. "It definitely makes it harder, but no excuses. Next man up. Especially on the defense and we have to turn our notch up a little more and try to get our offense on short fields. We feel like he'll be ready for next week.
"The division might be out of reach, but we still have a chance to get to the playoffs and that's our main goal. I feel like if we get to the playoffs, we'll be a scary team to face."
Jake Browning took over Thursday night and looked better than he did during preseason action, but asking a QB with 15 career pass attempts to spearhead the offense for that stretch run is a precarious proposition.
Zac Taylor's club stubbed their toe out of the gate, starting 1-3, before four straight wins got them back in the hunt. Back-to-back losses and Burrow's injury now put the reigning AFC North champs in danger of completely missing the postseason.
Taylor knows that weathering the current storm will take a week-by-week approach, and every man on the roster contributing.
"Don't get it twisted on what kind of team we have," Taylor said, via the Associated Press. "We have a chance to regroup. All the things that we really want to do are still in front of us. We control our own destiny at this point."
He added: "In a long season like this, what you've got to do is be able to regroup. We've done this kind of situation before. We've got to rally these last seven weeks. Great opportunity at home against Pittsburgh to get started on that track."