CINCINNATI -- Back in the preseason, Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's message was simple.
Don't turn the ball over.
Through the first two preseason games, his players had trouble grasping that concept, getting intercepted three times and losing a pair of fumbles. With both games ending in losses, he had the perfect illustration of what could happen to a team that repeatedly put the ball in its opponents' hands.
Across the next two preseason games, the message had been received. The Bengals didn't turn the ball over at all in wins against the Cardinals and Colts. Since none of the games counted, it was the perfect opportunity for Jackson to get his players to realize how important turnover-free football was.
It appeared they understood. Through two weeks in the regular season, they were clean. It wasn't until the third game, when a mishandled screen pass was picked off Giovani Bernard's hands, that the Bengals finally turned the ball over.
Since then, Jackson's worst fears have been realized.
Over the past six games, the Bengals have committed 13 turnovers. In two of their three losses this season, they have given the ball back to the opposition a combined seven times.
"You've got to take care of the ball," Jackson said a day after last Thursday's four-turnover, 24-3 loss to the Browns. "I preach it and I believe in it and I'm never going to stop preaching it, because that's the thing that will help us cure what we're feeling today. If you take care of the ball, you stand a better chance of winning."
Quarterback Andy Dalton, who was part of three of last week's four turnovers, said the most important lesson he received from the defeat was a reaffirmation of how important it is to protect the ball.
"It gives our team a better chance," Dalton said. "You can't turn the ball over."
Specifically, Dalton added, an offense can't turn the ball over when it's on the road facing a team that has a hostile home crowd in its back pocket. In that instance, a turnover could be the difference between a win and a loss.
Here are a couple of other notes about how turnovers have been the difference-makers in the Bengals' season so far:
The Bengals have lost the turnover battle in all three losses and the tie with the Panthers. They also lost the turnover margin in the win against the Jaguars. In every other game, they have won it.
Although the defense has generated as many turnovers as the offense has given up (14), the Bengals still are being outscored in points off turnovers. Opposing teams are outscoring them on turnovers, 44-33.
Through the Bengals' first three games, opposing defenses didn't score any points off turnovers. In the six games since, they have scored all 44 off turnovers.
The Bengals' offense has lost one more fumble (5) than their defense has recovered (4). The offense has also thrown one fewer interception (9) than the defense has produced (10).