Marvin Lewis is coaching his 207th regular-season game Monday night in Denver. There have been none bigger.
The playoffs and Christmas have landed in Cincinnati at the same joyous time and before Wednesday's practice the Bengals locker room didn't back down from that big-game feel.
"A win in Denver,' said cornerback Adam Jones, when asked what he wanted to give his city for XMas. "You said for Christmas, you didn't say for the whole year. Of course we want to win a Super Bowl, but that starts off this week, so we have to take care of one game at a time."
If you can't name a bigger regular-season game in Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis' 13 seasons it's because you can't. The Monday nighter in Denver (8:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5 and ESPN) is essentially a play-off game because a win puts them in the divisional round with a Wild Card bye.
"You get two weeks off if you win this game," Jones said of a Paul Brown Stadium season finale against Baltimore that would be rendered meaningless. "I know those guys are looking at it the same way. It's a big game we need to win . . . It is a play-off game. That's how you have to look at it."
Defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry, who'll be playing his 61st regular-season game with the Bengals, says it's his biggest.
"I would think so,' Gilberry said. "Everything with the ramifications around it. What happens if we do this and do that. I would have to say so."
Head coach Marvin Lewis smells a post-season game two weeks early.
"Very similar," Lewis said. "Those are the stakes out there."
And there is of course the whole Monday Night Football thing.
"Your mama is watching. If that's not enough, than I don't know what else is," Gilberry said. "Everyone and their mama is watching Monday night. I definitely want to impress my mama, and I'm sure these guys in the locker room feel the same way."
Three days after Christmas, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, re-visits the place where as a rookie the playoffs were lost on the Christmas Eve Heave of '06 on the tying extra point. Now this is his 151st regular-season game in stripes
The biggest ever? At 34, Whitworth sounds like a kid at Christmas.
"It's huge," Whitworth said. "It's probably one of our biggest games. I think it's a heck of a challenge. A team that's No. 1 in defense on the road with a back-up quarterback, that is going to be a heck of a challenge for us. That's great. That's awesome . It's fun."
Plus there is the lure of Denver's once-in-decade defense with No. 1 rankings across the board challenged by a Cincinnati defense that has the one No. 1 ranking the Broncos don't have.
Points per game.
"That's one of the most exciting things, to me, is going up against another top-tier defense in this atmosphere and in this league," Gilberry said. "With the guys they have, the pass rushers they have and the run stoppers they have, it's a challenge for us. For me to sit here and say we don't pay attention to that, that's a lie. We do. We want to go out and outperform that unit, and we get a kick out of that. … Everyone knows that defense wins championships, so if you're the best defense on the field, usually you are going to win the game."
Adam Jones sees a game worthy of two prideful defenses. Grinding. Field position. Big plays at a premium. And costly.
"It is one of those games, but we've got to play good and just don't allow the deep ball. If we do that, we'll win the game," Jones said. "We've got to give the guys up front time to rush. We've got a good group here. I know they got a good group, but we've got a good group here. We've been showing that all year, and this is the time we need to show it."
Reggie Nelson, the Bengals' newly-minted Pro Bowl safety, also embraces sharing the stage with Denver Pro Bowl cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris and the rest of a Denver defense giving up a mere 279 yards per game.
"Most definitely. That's every week, man. We always want to be the best defense," Nelson said. "First, third down, whatever it is. We just got to continue to play football and let it roll. We know what's at stake. We know what everybody says about this team, first round and all that. It's a lot. We have to continue to play our football and just play. Let everything just take care of itself."
During the last month the Bengals have had to get ready for the 6-8 Rams, 3-11 Browns, and the 4-10 49ers.
Not this week.
"Those games kind of linger around, but this one here, it's exciting," Gilberry said. "This whole week. People were wondering why we weren't smiling last week after we beat San Francisco. Because we knew this game here was way more important. Once that game was over with, we wish we could have played Thursday. Guys are eager."