- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) - The Bengals had just lost their distinction as the NFL’s last unbeaten team.

They’d been soundly beaten in New England 43-17 in a Sunday night game - yet another wasted chance to win over the skeptics on a big stage.

And coach Marvin Lewis had a message.

“Like coach Marvin said after the game: Great football teams don’t lose back to back,” running back Jeremy Hill said. “We know that going into it. If we want to consider ourselves one of the better teams in this league, we know we can’t lose back to back. So we’re going to have to go out there and play our butts off and get this thing going back in the way we want it to go.”

The Bengals (3-1) will have more than enough motivation on Sunday in a matchup of division leaders. The defending AFC North champions host NFC South leader Carolina (3-2) with the spotlight on how the offenses fare with reserves playing a big role.

The Panthers beat Chicago 31-24 even though running backs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert were sidelined. Darrin Reaves and Chris Ogbonnaya, who weren’t on Carolina’s roster at the start of the season, managed 59 yards and a touchdown.

Williams (sprained ankle) and Stewart (sprained knee) weren’t expected back, so it’ll be up to the reserves to run it again and take some of the pressure off Cam Newton.

The Bengals had trouble with New England’s up-tempo offense, so it might be a good time for the Panthers to go to the no-huddle approach.

They’ve used the no-huddle on at least one play during seven drives this season and wound up scoring touchdowns on six of them, according to STATS.

“The no-huddle package has been good to us,” Newton said. “We’ve just got to find a way to sustain drives. But that has been our area, so to speak, to find a way to keep the tempo going and keep pressure on the defense.”

The Bengals have won 11 straight regular-season games at home, a franchise record. Their last home loss was in the playoffs to San Diego last season.

Things to watch on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:

FOLLOWING THE PATRIOTS’ LEAD: New England rebounded from a drubbing at Kansas City with an inspiring performance the next week. The Bengals want to do the same thing. The lost back-to-back games only one time last season on their way to the division title.

“Responding from that game is a critical thing because of who we are and what we’re trying to establish for ourselves,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “The New England game for us was a lesson learned, but it still is early and we’re 3-1 right now.”

UNLEASHING NEWTON: Newton ran out of the read option more last week, but hasn’t carried the ball as much because of offseason ankle surgery and broken ribs during the preseason. Coach Ron Rivera says he’ll “unleash” Newton when the time is right. He’s getting closer.

“They had the designed runs back in the offense last week so obviously they are feeling better about where he is physically,” Lewis said. “The fact that those were back in the plan I would imagine they will continue to expand on those things.”

CORNERBACK CONCERNS: Carolina’s injuries have also stretched to its defensive backfield, where it’ll be without starting cornerback Josh Norman (concussion) and nickel back Bene Benwikere (sprained ankle). Melvin White, who was benched the previous week after giving up two touchdown passes, will start for Norman while veteran Charles Godfrey will play nickel back.

BENGALS PASS: Cincinnati’s biggest injury concerns are at receiver. A.J. Green aggravated his injured big right toe during the week. Marvin Jones was limited to watching practice because of an injured ankle. Tight end Tyler Eifert is out until at least midseason with an injured elbow. Giovani Bernard and Hill could wind up catching a lot of passes out of the backfield in addition to running against a defense that’s given up a lot of yards on the ground.

“I think what Cincinnati does in their run game is interesting,” Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said.

KEEPING DALTON UPRIGHT: Andy Dalton was sacked for the first time this season during the loss in New England. That’s the only sack allowed by Cincinnati, the fewest in the NFL. Denver and Oakland are second with four sacks allowed. Carolina had three sacks in the second half of the win over Chicago on Sunday.

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AP Sports Writer Steve Reed in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.

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AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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