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Bengals bad in prime time because they're afraid of dark?

CINCINNATI -- It's the question Cincinnati Bengals fans have been wanting answered the past four seasons.

Why has this team struggled at night?

"I have no idea," defensive end Wallace Gilberry said Thursday.

"I guess we're afraid of the dark."

It's either that, or something else. What is known is that Cincinnati's struggles in prime time are well-documented, and the Bengals have no one to blame for that but themselves.

Since 2011, the year Andy Dalton was drafted and made starting quarterback, they are 2-6 in games played on Monday, Sunday and Thursday nights. That includes losses earlier this year to the New England Patriots on a Sunday night and to the Cleveland Browns on a Thursday night. The Bengals also have lost their last three playoff games, making their big-game showing the last four seasons an abysmal 2-9 overall.

The last time Cincinnati won in prime time in the regular season, they knocked off the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Monday night game at Paul Brown Stadium. Monday's game on ESPN against the Denver Broncos will be the Bengals' first on that night of the week since.

With the looming nationally televised game, this is now the third time this season Bengals players have had to answer questions about their struggles when the sun goes down. They may be tired of hearing these questions but many admitted that until they do something to change the narrative, they know the questions will come.

"It is annoying and it's our job to make it unannoying," safety George Iloka said to reporters. "If we lose this game, the talk will come back again. But that's you all's job to do. If you feel like you see something that the team is lacking or having a problem with, you have to write about it. And if we want to silence the critics, so to say, we've got to put up or shut up. That's how it goes. It might be annoying, but that's on us."

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson had similar sentiments.

"Until we do it, you guys are going to keep writing about it. So it doesn't matter what I say or what I think, at the end of the day, we just have to go out and do it," he said.

Pressed during his news conference Thursday about the reasons behind the Bengals' prime-time problems, head coach Marvin Lewis chalked it up to two things: poor defense of the opposing quarterback and turnovers.

"We haven't had any effect on the other team's quarterback," Lewis said. "We also haven't made enough plays effectively on offense, we haven't been very good on third down in some of those games, and they make a big difference."

He's right. In their 11 prime-time and playoff games since 2011, the Bengals have given up an average opposing passer rating of 93.8, and an opposing total QBR of 69.2. They also have lost 17 turnovers, while retained 12 themselves. On third down, the offense has converted at a 29.5 percent clip in these games.

"I don't know why we haven't played as good on defense in those games, but we need to," Lewis said. "I don't know why we haven't played as good on offense, or why we've given up on a play on special teams in those games, but we need to do better."