Again, Andrew Whitworth shut-down his Monday man.
Domata Peko and Andrew Whitworth, the class officers still around from the draft of 2006, have been here before. But it feels a little different after Monday night's 37-28 victory over a Hall-of-Fame exhibit.
Forget that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was as mobile as a museum piece. The Bengals had never beaten Manning. It was the first they had beaten a winning team in prime time since 2006. It was a badge of honor as they try to crash the elite with their first play-off victory under head coach Marvin Lewis in less than two weeks.
"Five out of six, baby," Whitworth said Monday night. "We just have a new attitude. The running game has really sparked kind of a feistiness, a will to make something happen for us."
There's a new chemistry. The playoff formula that was so lacking against San Diego seems to be on everyone's mind.
"That was huge," Peko said of the Monday win. "Especially against one of the best teams in the league. We answered a lot of questions, especially on this Monday night thing. Everybody was talking about it. We kept it in-house and just got it done. We're just getting started. Finally. It feels so good to beat somebody on Monday night. Especially a great team like that"
Peko and Whitworth are among the seven players who have been here for five post-season berths in the last six seasons, the best streak in franchise history.
"It means something to me. It's something to be proud of," Whitworth said.
Most of the players are like safety George Iloka. They've been here since 2012, a run when the Bengals have the fifth best winning percentage in the NFL (.670) behind only the Broncos (.787), Patriots (.766), Seahawks (.745), and Colts (.681).
Like Whitworth and Peko, Iloka is looking for post-season pay-dirt. To him, the prime-time albatross had been an outside affair.
"Like I said earlier in the week, I looked at this as a game we needed to make the playoffs," Iloka said. "We have another prime-time game next week for the division, so we'll put this game behind us, watch what we did well and bad and try to get ready for Pittsburgh."
If the Bengals win to finish 11-4-1, they clinch at least the third-best record in the AFC and at least the No. 3 seed. If Denver loses at home to Oakland this week, the Bengals at 11-4-1 would be the No. 2 seed and claim a first-round playoff bye, as Denver would fall to 11-5. If the Bengals at 11-4-1 have to settle for the No. 3 seed, they host the No. 6 seed on Wild Card weekend (Jan. 3-4) against Baltimore, San Diego, Houston or Kansas City.
If the Bengals lose to Pittsburgh and fall to 10-5-1, Pittsburgh wins the division at 11-5 but the Bengals claim the first Wild Card spot with the fifth seed. They would play on the road on Wild Card weekend, visiting the No. 4 seed, which through 15 games projects as Indianapolis.
Four straight years and they've been a part of the first-round matchups never to get beyond them. But there's a sense they've never played this kind of play-off football on both sides of the line where Whitworth and Peko live
The running game helped Whitworth and right tackle Eric Winston, in his first Bengals start, shut down Denver's prolific pass rushers. Outside linebacker Von Miller and defensive end Demarcus Ware came into the game as one of only two NFL pass-rushing tandems where both have at least 10 sacks and according to ProoFootballFocus.com, they only combined to have QB hurries against the Bengals.
"We're really committed to running it," Whitworth said. "Not calling plays one or two times. Calling them as many times as we think they're going to work. And just having faith that the running game will pop. And we were able to do that."
On defense, Iloka asked how many yards the Broncos got rushing.
"Not over 100, right?" asked Iloka and he was right with 85. "We stopped the run and our D-line did a good job. I don't think most teams are just going to throw the ball in a game in December. This time it paid off for us and it didn't pay off for them."
The guys up front did a great job getting to the guy that had been the most well protected passer in the league. Not Monday. They sacked Manning twice as Dunlap simply overpowered right tackle Louis Vasquez for one of them, but right end Wallace Gilberry really made life miserable for Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady. He drew two holding calls on Clady (one wiped out a 48-yard pass) and PFF said Gilberry had one hit and three hurries.
Peko pointed to how the line adjusted in the fourth quarter after Manning's three TD drives in the third quarter.
"We played our style of defense. Like jamming them," Peko said. "It's all timing with him, so we were getting after the timing of the whole thing. Dunlap, freaking Gil, Geno (Atkins) pushing the pocket. And getting at his feet. Whenever you get at Peyton Manning's feet, he seems to make mistakes. It started with pushing the pocket. Defensive ends collapsing the pocket and getting to his feet. Anytime you disturb a quarterback like that, you saw on film he tends to overthrow and make mistakes."
Five of the last six and the last four. But have they ever played this well on both sides of the line this late in any of those runs?