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Bengals look to compute division of labor

Posted Dec 9, 2015

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis wants his players to eye the scoreboard and not fill up the bulletin board while prepping for Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Channel 12) at sold-out Paul Brown Stadium against the Steelers.

Bengals right end Michael Johnson embraces a Bengals-Steelers game.

The Steelers supplied the bulletin board earlier in the week, but on Wednesday the Bengals pretty much chose not to put any material on it as the rivalry ratchets up another heated notch when Cincinnati tries to clinch its second AFC North title in three years Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Channel 12) at Paul Brown Stadium.

If anything, the Bengals went the other way and talked about the respect they have for a team that has stalked their rise in the AFC North over the last decade.

Truth be told, the importance of the game has eclipsed the noise. Never has the Bengals destiny been so clear heading into a game. A win gives them their earliest division clinching ever before a sell-out crowd with three games left to play and even money to secure a play-off bye. By virtue of their 8-1 AFC record, they currently have the top seed with the battered Patriots trying to get to 8-1 in Houston.

“It’s special. It’s special. If anybody tells you it’s not special, then they’re lying,” said cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick before Wednesday’s practice. “Because we’ve got a great opportunity to do something we’ve never done. Something that we can hang our hat on. I feel like it’s a special moment, a special day. It’s a day to go out there and win a division. All around, Sunday should be a special day for us.”

On Sunday the Bengals have a chance to not only be 11-2 for the first time ever, but do it against the team that has denied them so much over the years. It would be their fourth division title in 11 years, matching Pittsburgh’s total. A Jets' loss at home to Tennessee or a Chiefs' loss at home to San Diego puts the Bengals into their fifth straight postseason. But they're looking for a lot more than that.

“It's one of those things where you can't really enjoy the feeling because there's so much work we have to do today leading up to Sunday,” said defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry. “Hopefully after Sunday when we're back in here we can have a lot more to respond about and talk about.” 

Which tells you Lewis’ Wednesday message sunk in. Lewis doesn’t want any chirping ever, but particularly in this series that the Steelers have an 18-8 edge since he took the Bengals job.

“I don’t have anything against them. I like playing them,” said right end Michael Johnson. “Its good football and I like playing good football. Some teams you like playing because you know it’s going to be a tough game.”

Steelers right guard David DeCastro delivered the obligatory these-two-teams-don’t-like-each-other bit early this week after linebacker Vince Williams fueled the fire in wake of the Bengals’ win in Pittsburgh last month when he threatened Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict via Twitter for his alleged celebration on the tackle that ended team Steelers MVP Le’Veon Bell’s season.

“We know what time it is, we know what type of game this is,” Kirkpatrick said. “Hopefully we can keep our composure; hopefully he can keep his composure and let them be the idiots.”

The tweet got deleted, but this is Bengals-Steelers. The only thing that gets erased in this rivalry lately is dreams.

Last year in the final game of the season, the Steelers beat the Bengals at Heinz Field and took the AFC North title that the Bengals won in 2013. In ’13, the Steelers would finish 8-8 but knock the Bengals out of a shot for the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs with another December win at Heinz.

“There have been times they haven’t gotten into the playoffs and look at how much damage they’ve done and how well they’ve played when their backs are against the wall,” Johnson said. “I don’t think you can ever count them out of the fight.”

 But the December before at Heinz in a game to decide which team would go to the 2012 playoffs, the Bengals knocked out the Steelers.

“I don't have anything against them. That's his personal opinion. I could care less,” Gilberry said. “The only thing we're worried about is winning this football game.”

Gilberry says he’s not looking for the game to be chippy.

“Not from us. We're coming out to play football. Somebody mentioned a tweet or something earlier,” Gilberry said. “I know for a fact that talking or tweeting never won any fight or any football game. We'll leave all the blogging for all the bloggers.”

Kirkpatrick agrees with DeCastro. They don’t like each other.

“Facts,” he said.

But he also played the respect card.

“They’ve got great players. My respect for Antonio Brown is so high,” Kirkpatrick said of the supersonic wide receiver. “It’s through the roof. But at the end of the day, he’s a threat to this team. We’ve got to go out there and try to eliminate the threat.”

The guy who has been huge in this series for the Bengals eliminating threats is NFL-interception leader Reggie Nelson. In the Bengals’ last three wins against the Steelers, Nelson has delivered at safety fourth-quarter interceptions of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to either set up the winning score or ice the game.

“It’s attributed to nothing,” said Nelson of his Ben success. “Big Ben is a great quarterback . . . You couldn’t tell if he was hurt the first time. We expect him to give us his best game. We’ve definitely always respected them. Much respect to that organization, to their team. It’s going to be a fight and we’re going to be prepared for that.”

The moment, it turns out, is louder than the noise.

“We’ve been taking one game at a time and now we can talk about it,” Nelson said. “This game means a lot and we know what’s at stake. We have to bring our A game and bring more to the table.”

So far it’s not a bulletin-board game. And that’s the way Lewis wants it.

A scoreboard game.

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