Four years ago Bengals safety Gibril Wilson had the best seat in the house for the NFL's most improbable run of the young century. His Giants beat Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay, Terrell Owens and his quarterback in Dallas, Brett Favre on the Green Bay tundra and Tom Brady in his personal playpen of the Super Bowl.
"The thing about the playoffs," said Wilson, who leads all Bengals with six postseason starts, "is that the 53 players and the coaching staff have to be as close as possible because nobody thinks you can do it except the guys in this building."
If that doesn't sound like the 2011 playoff-bound Bengals, what does? Guys like Wilson give the Bengals one edge heading into Saturday's AFC Wild Card game (4:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) in Houston. With their second playoff appearance in three seasons, the Bengals have twice as much postseason experience as a Texans franchise dancing for the first time. A total of 26 Bengals compared to 15 Texans have taken a postseason snap.
One of Paul Brown's most used quotes is "Act like you've been there before," and before practice Tuesday, Lewis showed that his team has when he asked the players that have been to the playoffs to stand.
"A lot of guys," said defensive tackle Domata Peko. "More than half. We have to use that to our advantage."
But, in the end, Lewis doesn't want to make too big of a deal of it. In his two Super Bowls, paper had nothing to do with Steelers quarterback Neil O'Donnell throwing two balls into Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown's chest and the Ravens blanking the Giants from scrimmage.
"I think there's something to being hungry, to being detailed in your preparation and your execution," Lewis said in his Tuesday news conference. "That's what counts at the end. It's not that somebody was in this many playoffs or somebody was not in this many playoffs on paper. You don't play or win or lose these games on paper. Every game we play is won out there on that field."
But he clearly thinks it means something.
"I think there's something to it, there's no question in my mind," Lewis said. "But I was part of a coaching staff on a team that had never been to the playoffs and won the Super Bowl (2000 Ravens), so I guess it was overrated then."
His players don't think it's overrated. Peko, one of 15 players whose one postseason game was the 24-14 Wild Card loss to the Jets two years ago, says there's a definite change in tempo.
"It's like the same difference going from the preseason to the regular season; the same change in the speed of the game," Wilson said. "Everything is just a little bit different. The pregame is different. Everything is (scrutinized). Everything is more intense."
Running back Cedric Benson made it when his Bears lost to the Colts five years ago and that stretch run is still with him.
"I use my Super Bowl experience as a professional the entire season," Benson said. "Traveling through the playoffs and going to the Super Bowl really taught me to take it one game at a time. This time of the year it's all that matters. Just one game. You win, you keep going. You lose, you go home. Each game, each week is the Super Bowl. You just have to approach every game like that."
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is already on record as saying this team is so different than the '09 playoff team, ranging from its cadre of playmakers to makeup. Guys like backup running back Bernard Scott agree that the talent and chemistry are simply better.
"We've got guys on both sides of the ball that can make plays," Scott said. "More playmakers instead of just one or two."
Indeed, the '09 team didn't have the 11 catches of 35 yards or more from wide receiver A.J. Green, or the six touchdowns from tight end Jermaine Gresham or the combined 12 sacks defensive linemen Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins have in the nickel package, or the 10.6 yards per punt return from Brandon Tate.
But Whitworth thinks the experience of watching the Jets take advantage of turnovers and missed field goals helps.
"I thought we played really well, but we realized how crucial those one or two plays can become," Whitworth said. "I think the Jets had one or two critical plays that put us away and blew our opportunity. You realize in these games those one or two will get you."
And he knows that different feel. It wasn't until Whitworth was talking to his wife that he realized not every team is playing this week.
"It was just another week … but only 12 teams are existing," Whitworth said. "The atmosphere is definitely going to be different. This is only the second or third time we're on national TV and people are going to actually watch us play.
"Guys that have been there, we value what it meant and the young guys have been able to hear us say it. This is only my second time in six years and to hear Nate Clements say this is his first time in all the years (11) he's played, these young guys get to hear that."
They can also hear Wilson talk about a Giants team seeded fifth with no shot and coached by the indomitable do-it-my-way Tom Coughlin. Wilson sees a little Coughlin in Lewis.
"They're both tough-minded guys that know exactly what direction they want to take their teams," Wilson said. "We had a great defense. We've got a great defense now. Both offenses are explosive. If we can get back to doing what we were doing in the middle of the season with all the little things and doing all the detailed stuff, we can be in the last game. I don't see why not."