PITTSBURGH _ After the win that will forever go down as the watershed victory of the Marvin Lewis era, long-suffering Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson admitted it was all about the indoor facility.
"When you're 2-12 and you don't have a bubble, it's cold as Hell. It's the coldest place on earth out at practice," Anderson said. "Now, it's cold, but, it's like, 'We've got to go play in the cold on Sunday, so, OK.' That's the idea. Keep going and we'll get a bubble."
Their 2005 bubble has yet to burst, but the Bengals took the opportunity after Sunday's 38-31 victory here over the Steelers to poke some holes in the critics.
"We answered the critics. The critics who said we hadn't beat anybody with a winning record," said wide receiver Chad Johnson. "So he'll we have to wait and see what the problem is that they have with this team and then we'll answer that."
They had heard they weren't an elite team and hadn't beat an elite team and John Thornton wondered what would be said now.
"The Steelers are 7-5," Thornton said. "Are they an elite team? I mean, Chicago (who the Bengals beat when they were 1-1) has the same record we do."
The Bengals tried to put a straight face on this one. After all, they don't clinch anything unless they beat Cleveland this Sunday.
But it was emotional. Their first winning season for veterans like Anderson, center Rich Braham, and linebacker Brian Simmons. Control of the division. A win over the defending AFC North champion Steelers six weeks after they got pummeled.
They had their loudest and most boisterous post-game "Who going to beat them Bengals?" chant yet, probably stemming from getting Monday off. But it was more than that.
"It seems like we've been climbing ever since I got here," Anderson said. "I guess we're finally near the top. I mean, we're not the (North) champions yet, and there is still some work to be done, but we're feeling pretty good now. It's very gratifying."
After 106 games and Sunday's huge interception that was the most athletic of his eight seasons in tipping it to himself, Simmons was cautious.
"It's still incomplete. It wasn't our goal to go 9-7 or to have a winning record. It was one thing: to get to the playoffs," Simmons said. "Winning the division also. Until we get that done, I don't think anybody in this locker room will be satisfied. We feel good right now, don't get me wrong. But we know we've got a lot of work ahead, we've got a lot of good teams left to play, and it's fun. That's what December football is all about."
Head coach Marvin Lewis sees his post-Indy plan taking shape.
"We're excited about it, and after we lost to the Colts our guys came together knowing we had three divisional games in a row," Lewis said. "It was important to win all three. We have two down and one more to go and we'll be ready for Cleveland."
Lewis makes his players aware of everything said and written. Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh remembered something Steelers linebacker Joey Porter said after the last game. Something about the measuring stick game had become a "whipping stick game."
"So what kind of stick was this game, huh?" Houshmandzadeh asked.
A sweet one.