Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey makes a tackle Sunday night.
PITTSBURGH - Nose tackle Domata Peko has played in four post-season games, so he sensed the switch turned even as the Bengals walked off the field from their 27-17 loss in Sunday night's AFC North title game.
"We know what's in front of us. That's what we were saying right when we walked in to the locker room," Peko said. "So we'll move on Sunday at one o'clock and we'll get over this hump."
That's when the Bengals play their fourth straight Wild Card Game in Indianapolis (Cincinnati's Channel 12), fifth in the last six years and sixth in the 12 seasons of the Marvin Lewis era. They would have liked to have won the AFC North title Sunday night at Heinz Field, but even if they did they know they would still spend the week answering why they haven't won a playoff game yet under Lewis.
"On a scale of 1-10, I think a three,' said safety George Iloka of Sunday's disappointment quotient. " I have a division (champions) hat at home from last year and I don't know where it's at. It's probably somewhere under the bed collecting dust. You don't look back when your career is over, whenever that is, and say, 'Oh, in 2014 I won a division.' No one really remembers that. They remember what you do in the playoffs."
Iloka certainly remembers what happened last year in the playoffs even though they won the division. They lost at home to a Chargers team it beat on the road 35 days before.
"Once you get to the playoffs, it's a brand new season, it's oh and oh," Iloka said. "It's what you do there that counts. We've got a brand new life so to say."
Peko is upset over the loss. He's played in enough of these Wild Card games (0-2 at home, 0-2 on the road) to know home helps. But he also thinks the way the Bengals stopped the run Sunday night at Heinz gives them a big lift heading into Sunday after Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell gouged them for 185 yards three weeks ago and could manage just 20 on eight carries.
"We shut down the run game for sure. Especially after they ran it down out throat last time. We really kept Le'Veon in check," Peko said. "It was very disappointing today. We had plenty of chances to win it. But we're still in this dance. We're one of 12 teams. There are a lot of teams packing up their U-Hauls."
The Bengals were 30 yards away from sending the Steelers packing to Indianapolis, which is where wide receiver A.J. Green fumbled with 3:51 left and the Bengals within 20-17. They got there because they smelled out a fake punt with 5:43 left in the game.
The play shows just what the Bengals need in the coming weeks. Anticipation and execution amid the madness.
Wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher ended up with his first interception since he played defense at high school in Toledo when Steelers punter Brad Wing tried to pick up fourth-and-nine from the Bengals 45. Sanzenbacher picked it off at the Bengals 41 and they were in perfect shape for their second straight fourth quarter comeback in prime time.
"We tried to get in a safe defense once they snapped it. It got hectic as fakes always do. And then weird stuff happens," Sanzenbacher said. "The call got made about a second before the snap when we thought something might be up. (The punter) could pull the ball down or it could be snapped right to the (personal protector). It was so quick, you don't know if everybody got the call. You just have to be a football player and latch on to a guy. It's something we practice all the time."
Sanzenbacher made the football play. He stayed with the man he was going to block and that's where Wing threw it.
It almost brought them a division title. Now they have to channel it for a road win and the Bengals have never won a playoff game on a road. But then this is the first year the Green-Dalton Bengals won in Baltimore, won a road shutout, and beat a winning team in prime time. And, they haven't lost back-to-back games this season.
"It stinks to lose the division. But at the end of the day there are only so many teams that get this opportunity ,' said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "It doesn't matter what your record is anymore. It doesn't matter where your seeded. It doesn't matter. Anything. All that matters is if you win. We've got an opportunity to go lick our wounds tomorrow, get in the film, and get ready for the Indianapolis Colts. The bottom line is from now on, it doesn't matter."
Or, as Peko said of the Colts, "We owe them one…All I know is we're in the dance."