Bengals trying to hold 1st place, fill stadium

The Bengals are trying to hold onto first place in the AFC North

and fill their stadium for two final home games that will decide

their fate.

They’ve got a lot of work to do in both areas.

The Bengals (9-5) need to beat the Vikings (4-9-1) at Paul Brown

Stadium on Sunday to move a step closer to clinching the division

title. They’ve led the division by at least two games for most of

the season, but it’s down to one over Baltimore (8-6) with two

games left.

”You’ve got to put all your cookies in the basket – however you

want to look at it,” safety Chris Crocker said. ”You’re all in at

this point. You’ve really got to win. Just win. Doesn’t matter how

it looks, just win.”

With two weeks to go, the Bengals are still in very good

position to make the playoffs for an unprecedented third year in a

row. But a 30-20 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday night tightened

things and made a lot of their fans do a double-take.

The Bengals haven’t sold out their game Sunday against

Minnesota. Roughly 3,500 tickets remain. The league gave them a

one-day extension to sell out and avoid having the game blacked out

on local television.

They packed Paul Brown Stadium for the first six home games. As

the playoffs close in, they’ve become a tough ticket to sell. The

loss in Pittsburgh left a lot of fans with a sense of doom.

”We’ll go back this week and play well and everybody will

change their tone and all of a sudden we’ll be good again,”

offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said. ”That’s kind of how it

goes around Cincinnati for some reason.”

Whitworth has become accustomed to playing in front of a lot of

empty seats at Paul Brown Stadium during his eight seasons in

Cincinnati. The Bengals have gotten better at filling the place in

the last few years with their run of playoff appearances, but

aren’t yet a sure thing at home.

”It’s like I’ve said over my eight years here: It’s always been

interesting at times as far as that stuff goes,” Whitworth said.

”All we can do is continue to put a winner on the field and try to

prove who we are and people will come and support us more and more,

and hopefully that continues to grow.”

The Bengals are in line to get the No. 3 seed in the playoffs,

behind Denver (11-3) and New England (10-4). They beat the Patriots

at Paul Brown Stadium, giving them the head-to-head tiebreaker if

they finish with the same record.

Cincinnati would clinch a playoff spot with a win and Miami

losing at Buffalo on Sunday. They’ll clinch the AFC North title

with a win and a Baltimore loss to the Patriots.

If both the Bengals and Ravens win, it’ll come down to the final

week with Baltimore playing at Paul Brown Stadium. The winner gets

the division title. The loser could be eliminated from playoff

contention.

”Honestly, I think we’re going to win (on Sunday) and I think

Baltimore, they have momentum and they’re going to win too,”

Crocker said. ”I think that last game’s going to mean a lot.”

The Bengals reached the playoffs as a wild-card team each of the

last two seasons, then played poorly and lost in Houston in the

first round both times. Getting to host a playoff game would be a

big step.

”There is a lot that can go on in these last two weeks,”

quarterback Andy Dalton said. ”Nothing is determined yet. We have

to go out and win these last two games and everything else will

take care of itself.”

And if they don’t …

”We’ve really got to win because if we lose this game, it’s

going to be really ugly,” Crocker said.

Notes: Whitworth, DE Carlos Dunlap and LB James Harrison were

held out of practice Thursday as they recover from concussions.

Whitworth sustained his during Wednesday’s practice. … DT Devon

Still (back) and CB Terence Newman also were held out. Newman is

expected to miss his second straight game because of a sprained

knee. … RG Kevin Zeitler, who has missed the last three with a

foot injury, was limited in practice.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org