Bengals think they’re better than ’05 team

The last time the Bengals reached the playoffs, they were a chic

pick to reach the Super Bowl because of their passing game. When

Carson Palmer got hurt on his first throw in the postseason,

Cincinnati was finished.

Four years later, the AFC North champions think they’ve got more

staying power.

The Bengals (10-5) won the division title on Sunday with a 17-10

victory over Kansas City that showed the difference between

Cincinnati’s last two playoff teams. The 2005 Bengals had a lot of

drama in the locker room and a lot of shootout games when they had

to outscore opponents. This low-key team relies on defense and

poise to grind out low-scoring wins.

Players who have been around for both like this combination

better.

“You know what? In 2005, there was a lot of stuff,” offensive

lineman Bobbie Williams said. “That was too long ago to think

about. This is a much more mature team.”

These Bengals are taking a much longer view than their ’05

counterparts. It showed in their low-key celebration on Sunday.

They didn’t douse the coach or whoop around in the locker room.

“This title is one of the many goals we set out to achieve,”

said Palmer, one of seven players on the active roster who were

part of the 2005 team. “We are not going to pound our chest over

this. We don’t feel like we have conquered the world. We still have

a lot of work to do.”

That’s far different from the last time around.

The Bengals were giddy when they ended one of the longest

streaks of futility in NFL history with that 2005 division title.

They went 11-5 – their first winning record in 15 years – with one

of the league’s most dangerous passing games.

It masked a glaring weakness. The defense was ranked the lowest

of any in the playoffs that year, giving up an average of 30 points

over the last eight games. When Palmer got his left knee shredded

on the first playoff series, the Bengals could not keep up and

wound up losing 31-17 to Pittsburgh.

After failing to get back to the playoffs the last three

seasons, coach Marvin Lewis reinvented his team, stressing defense,

ball control and field position. The defense has been this title

team’s strong point, giving up the fifth-fewest points in the

league.

The offense is the bigger concern heading into the final

regular-season game at the New York Jets (8-7), who need a win to

reach the playoffs.

The Bengals have been held under 20 points in nine of their 15

games. Their running game is among the league’s best, their passing

game in the bottom half. Against Kansas City’s struggling defense,

the Bengals managed only 53 total yards and three first downs in

the first half.

The offense was so inept that fans at Paul Brown Stadium loudly

booed their playoff-bound team as it headed for the locker room at

halftime.

“First off, it was a good day yesterday at the stadium, albeit

some of the boos, which are kind of hilarious, at halftime,” Lewis

said on Monday.

Nothing about the offense was funny.

“It wasn’t pretty,” receiver Chad Ochocinco said. “It wasn’t

pretty at all.”

The Bengals have scored 305 points, by far the fewest among the

four AFC teams that have clinched playoff spots – Indianapolis

(409), San Diego (431) and New England (400). Five of the seven

teams still in contention for wild-card berths have outscored the

Bengals as well.

Palmer would like to get the offense moving against the Jets.

Lewis is going to have to decide how much to play his regulars in a

game that won’t have much bearing on the Bengals. They will host

one of the two wild-card teams. Then, if they win, they’d play

either at San Diego or Indianapolis.

When they won the division in 2005, the Bengals lost their last

two regular-season games. They rested their regulars in a 37-3 loss

to Kansas City, then lost their playoff game. Palmer doesn’t want

to get into a rut again.

“We are a team that thrives on momentum,” Palmer said. “We

need to go out and shut them down and put up some points. We need

that momentum and aggressiveness going into the playoffs. We need

that indestructible feeling going into the postseason.”

Lewis declined to say whether he would consider resting players

against the Jets. There’s one other possible complication: New York

could wind up coming to Cincinnati for the first-round playoff game

if the Bengals lose on Sunday.

“We’re going to take all those things into consideration

there,” Lewis said.