Bengals eager to show they deserve playoffs

The Bengals will have a rematch against Houston in the playoffs, but they needed some help in order to get their second postseason berth in the last three years.

Cincinnati lost its regular-season finale to Baltimore, 24-16, but with losses by the New York Jets, Denver and Oakland, the Bengals backed into the sixth and final seed in the AFC.

The Bengals and Titans both finished 9-7, but by virtue of Cincinnati’s Week 9 win at Tennessee, the Bengals won the head-to-head tiebreaker. All seven of the Bengals’ losses were to teams in this season’s playoff field, including the Texans, who rallied for a 20-19 win at Paul Brown Stadium on Dec. 11.

Needless to say, there were a lot of conflicted feelings among the Bengals on Sunday. They lost, but they’re in.

“It’s kind of weird,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “We obviously didn’t get it done today, but we still have a chance. It’s what we wanted at the beginning of the season. We wanted to come in and make the playoffs, because once you’re in the playoffs, records up to this point don’t matter. Win, you’re in. Lose, you’re out. We’re here.”

Dalton, who became the first quarterback selected after the first round to start all 16 games and make the playoffs, will be going home for his first playoff game. Dalton, a native of Katy, Texas, has played games at Reliant Stadium both in high school and for TCU.

In previewing the matchup, Dalton said it should be a fun atmosphere but that he is not going to put added pressure on himself.

“I expect a lot out of myself. I’m not going to worry about any of that other stuff. I’m just going to go out and play the game,” he said.

If the Bengals are to win the rematch, they are going to have to be better on preventing big plays and also on run defense. Baltimore had four plays of 35 yards or more, including two touchdown runs by Ray Rice of 51 yards or longer.

The 221 rushing yards by Baltimore were the most given up during Mike Zimmer’s four years as defensive coordinator. With Houston having the league’s most formidable rushing duo in Arian Foster and Ben Tate, it is going to be a tough challenge.

“We really just have to watch what we did today — learn from it,” safety Chris Crocker said. “Even though it’s a new season, we know that these mistakes we made today, Houston is going to see it and they’re going to try and attack us the same way. It’s a bittersweet moment.”

Expect to hear many of the same themes from the regular season this week — consistency on both sides and staying disciplined on run defense. If the Bengals are unable to do that against the Texans, it will be another short stay in the playoffs.

Crocker said: “Now we really have to make some noise, because you look at the last three years, we’re in the playoffs two out of the three, so it really doesn’t mean anything if you go out in the first round. Our whole focus now is to go out and get a win.”

NOTES, QUOTES

BY THE NUMBERS: 21 — Seasons since the Bengals have had a road playoff game. The last time was Jan. 13, 1991, when they lost 20-10 to the Los Angeles Raiders.

TRENDING: Over the past two games, A.J. Green has been held to four catches for 51 yards. He had 61 catches for 1,005 yards in his first 13 games.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER NOTES

–K Mike Nugent set Bengals single-season records for points (132) and field goals (33).

–WR A.J. Green finished the season with 65 receptions for 1,057 yards. The yardage is a Bengals rookie record, but the receptions were one shy of Cris Collinsworth’s mark.

–DE Carlos Dunlap battled a hamstring injury but did have a sack.

–LB Rey Maualuga led the team with nine tackles but was out of position on a couple plays.

–RB Bernard Scott had a 25-yard touchdown run, which was his third rushing TD of the year. He had one touchdown coming into the season.