Quick hits: Bengals want more than North; Dalton closes in on QB marks

Posted Dec 22, 2013

There was no popping of champagne corks when word filtered through the Bengals locker room after Sunday's 42-14 victory over the Vikings that the Bengals were officially in the playoffs.

George Iloka

Bengals Division Champs

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There was no popping of champagne corks when word filtered through the Bengals locker room after Sunday's 42-14 victory over the Vikings at sold-out Paul Brown Stadium that the Bengals were officially in the playoffs for the third straight season with Miami's loss in Buffalo.

And you could hear a pin drop around empty, silent and dark Paul Brown Stadium four hours later when New England's rout of Baltimore gave the Bengals their second AFC North title in five years.

"No champagne yet," cornerback Adam Jones said after the win. "We want to be the one or two seed. Winning the division is the first step regardless of what happens. We need to win that division."

The Bengals can't be the one seed and they can only be the two seed if they win next Sunday's 1 p.m. finale at PBS against the Ravens while the Patriots lose against the Bills.

But the division title assures the first home playoff game since 2009 against a cadre of teams ranging from the Chiefs to a back-to-back game against the Ravens. The arch-rival Steelers are also in the mix.

It is the third division championship in head coach Marvin Lewis's 11 seasons and the first one since he and Bengals president Mike Brown remade the team during the 2011 offseason in the wake of  the A.J. Green-Andy Dalton draft, and lockout.

Left guard Andrew Whitworth said it sounded like and looked like right tackle Andre Smith (ankle) would be back for next Sunday's game against the Ravens weighing heavily on the Bengals minds because they still need a win to get the No. 2 seed.

"This team didn’t set out to make the playoffs. We set out to try and go to the Super Bowl and that goal hasn't been reached yet. We still have a ways to go," Whitworth said.

Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, one of 22 Bengals who has been here for the first stretch in franchise history of three straight playoff berths, observed, "We've been here before."

"We're trying not to get too high about this. We still have a lot of work to do," Hawkins said. "A.J. (Green) always said this is what we've known. We don’t know anything about the Bengals of the past. We're glad we're back in the playoffs, but that's not our end goal."

The Bengals joined the Patriots, Ravens and Colts as the AFC teams that have gone to the playoffs in at least four of the last five seasons.

"Anytime you get a 10-win season, you're doing pretty well," said center Kyle Cook. "Hopefully we can add on to that next week and take this and run it to the playoffs."

DALTON FIRES IT UP: As quarterback Andy Dalton closed in on his first AFC North title Sunday, he also hovered over one of the best passing seasons in Bengals history when he sifted the Vikings with a career passer rating day of 136.5 on four touchdown passes and 366 yards.

That left him with 31 touchdown passes, the second 30-plus TD season in Bengals annals and one shy of Carson Palmer's club record of 32. He also now has 4,015 yards passing for the third 4,000-season in Bengals history, just 116 shy of Palmer's team record set in 2007.

Dalton now has back-to-back 10-win seasons, the first time a Bengals quarterback has done that since Ken Anderson in 1975-76. Cook continues to be perplexed by the Dalton bashing.

"Just keep doubting him; please," Cook joked. "You should write, 'Dalton played well, but ... ' Don't give him too much credit."

Dalton also did it with his head. On second-and-eight from the Minnesota 29 late in the first quarter, he saw the Vikes deploy to a man-to-man coverage with Green in the slot, checked to a "go" route and Green bolted past cornerback Chris Cook for a touchdown.

Dalton hasn't thrown an interception in 131 straight attempts, none in the last three games. His last pick came late in the first half of the Dec. 1 victory in San Diego as he joins Dan Marino, Bernie Kosar and Joe Flacco as the only quarterbacks to reach the NFL playoffs in each of their first three seasons as a pro. 

DEFENSE, DEFENSE: Defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry, who plays inside and outside in the Bengals nickel package, had no idea the Vikings came up empty on nine third-down conversions until a scribe told him in the locker room.

But he knew why.

"Zimmer," he said of Bengals defensive coordinator Mike. "Putting us in the right position to execute."

The Bengals have been downright nasty at home on third down. In seven home games, foes have clicked on just 20 of 89 third downs for 22 percent. Gilberry credited the strategy of making Vikings Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson the top priority, a week after Peterson missed a game with a foot injury and was limited in practice.

"You cut off the head and the body will fall," Gilberry said. "Adrian Peterson is the head of that team. We knew if we stopped him and put it in (quarterback Matt) Cassel's hands and we smothered Cassel, we'd have a chance to do some good things. We stuck to the game plan and got good results from it."

The Bengals stuffed Peterson for 45 yards on 11 carries, seven of those attempts for three yards or less. On three third-and-twos in the first half, the Vikes ignored Peterson and threw two interceptions as well as linebacker Vinny Rey's pick-six.

Safety George Iloka, who got his first NFL interception Sunday, thought the Bengals only saw Mid Day and not All Day.

"I don't think he was healthy today. I don't think he was 100 percent," Iloka said. "I think he was banged up. We did a good job, too, but he wasn't himself. I don't know what you attribute it to. Us, partially him. Who knows?"


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