Bengals’ title means they’ve finally made it
More than just a home playoff game. More than some commemorative
shirt or cap. The AFC North championship is especially gratifying
to a Bengals team that has spent years trying to catch up.
Now Baltimore and Pittsburgh and Cleveland are trying to catch
The Bengals (10-5) clinched their first division title in four
years on Sunday. A 42-14 win over Minnesota, combined with the
Ravens’ loss to New England, gave Cincinnati its eighth division
title overall in 46 seasons.
Cincinnati is in the playoffs for the third season in a row, a
first for the franchise. The last two seasons, the Bengals made it
as a wild card.
”In my career, this is only my second time winning a
division,” safety Chris Crocker said on Monday. ”For me, that
says a lot. It’s that hard to do. I’ve been in the AFC North nine
out of my 11 years, and I’ve played these teams a bunch and now
we’re at the top, we’re the team that people are trying to catch
”We’ve been chasing Baltimore and Pittsburgh for so long.
They’ve been so good and it just feels really good to be at the top
and now it’s kind of like we’re looking down at everybody
The Bengals didn’t get much chance to congratulate each other on
their title, which they clinched when Baltimore lost early Sunday
evening. Players had the day off Monday, except to get treatment or
work out on their own.
Even though they’ve clinched the title, there’s still a lot at
stake in the final game of the regular season. The Bengals host the
Ravens (8-7), who are tied with Miami and San Diego for the final
Cincinnati still has a chance to move up to the No. 2 seed and a
first-round bye. Denver (12-3) and New England (11-4) have the top
two spots. Cincinnati currently is third, followed by Indianapolis
(10-5). The Bengals beat the Colts during the season, giving them
the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Currently, the Colts would host Kansas City (11-4) and the
Bengals would host the other wild card in the first round, while
the Broncos and Patriots get a week off. If the Bengals win on
Sunday and the Patriots lose at home to Buffalo in a later game,
Cincinnati would get the No. 2 seed and the bye because it beat New
England during the season.
”I feel good, but I’ll feel a lot better if New England
loses,” Crocker said. ”I really would feel much better if they
lose and we take care of business this Sunday. I was hoping they
lost this weekend. But it’s never done. It’s just like hey, you
can’t turn your mind off right now.”
The Bengals know their season will be judged solely on one
point: how they fare in the playoffs. They’ve lost in the opening
round at Houston each of the last two seasons, getting overwhelmed
in the high-stakes games.
Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, tied
for the seventh-longest streak of postseason futility in NFL
history. They’re 0-4 in the playoffs under coach Marvin Lewis, who
is in his 11th season.
This team is starting to change perceptions. A playoff win would
be the biggest step.
”It’s the first time we’ve been in the playoffs three
consecutive times,” defensive tackle Domata Peko said. ”That’s
amazing. We’re creating history here.
”We’ve had that one-and-done stuff. We want to go
Notes: LB Vontaze Burfict was being evaluated for a concussion
suffered in the second half of the win over Minnesota, leaving his
status uncertain for the final game. LB James Harrison missed the
game with a concussion. … RT Andre Smith left in the second half
with a sprained ankle, forcing the Bengals to move Anthony Collins
from left tackle to right tackle. Andrew Whitworth returned to left
tackle from the left guard spot. If Smith’s ankle is slow to heal,
it’s likely the line will stay that way against the Ravens.
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