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Eliminate the term 'elimination'


 Andrew Whitworth: been there before.

Sunday in Baltimore (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) is as close to an elimination game as the Bengals have played in the regular season since, well, it really hasn't been that long, has it?

 Two years ago they played Denver on a Monday night at Paul Brown Stadium and had to win to secure a post-season berth or face doing it in Pittsburgh in the regular-season finale. They did.

Four years ago in the next-to-last game of the season in Pittsburgh they played the AFC Wild Wild Card Game where the winner goes to the postseason and the loser goes home. They won.

So they're acting like they've been there before. Except now at 3-6-1 they have to play what amounts to four elimination games in their remaining divisional games and it starts with the first of two against the 5-5 first-place Ravens.

But they eliminate the word "elimination."

"No, I look at it as the next game and what do we have to do to win it," said Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth before Wednesday's practice. "That's the only thing you can think about. I think whether you have a great record or a bad record at this time of year, the teams that handle this time of year the best are the ones that take it one game at a time and that's their only focus. So my focus is on what we can do to beat Baltimore."

Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who is questionable for this one with a knee injury, broke up the Denver game in 2014 with two fourth-quarter interceptions of Peyton Manning, one a pick-six. He's staying away from the term, too.

"We've still got a lot of ball left," Kirkpatrick said. "It's definitely not another day. We've got to go out there and win. But I'm not going to be the one that makes that call. I'm going to leave that to the big boss."

In fact, eliminate the term "elimination game." They're not going to go there yet.

"I wouldn't say that,' said quarterback Andy Dalton, who has led them to two fourth-quarter victories in Baltimore the past two seasons. " But this one's really important. It's obviously a division game, and there's only six games left. So a lot is to be decided. We've got to do whatever we can to try and find a way to win this one."

There's never been much to choose from in this series against head coach Marvin Lewis' old team. He's 9-7 against them. In five of the last six games Dalton has faced off against quarterback Joe Flacco, the game has been decided by seven points or less. The Bengals have won five straight, their last loss coming in overtime.

It's emblematic of a division where the top three teams are so evenly matched they take turns atop it. The Ravens haven't been there since winning the Super Bowl in 2012 and last year their offense was devastated by injuries they had their worst year ever under coach John Harbaugh when the Bengals won their second AFC North title in three years. Pittsburgh won the other one in 2014 when the Steelers beat the Bengals in that regular-season finale.

"All the teams are pretty close," Harbaugh said in his Wednesday conference call with the Cincinnati media. "I'm sure Cincinnati and Pittsburgh looks at us like we've been down the last couple of years. All three teams share philosophies and style of play and mentality and it's kind of interesting to see. And put Cleveland in that category, too, with (new head coach) Hue Jackson."

Like they have for the fifth time in the last six years, the Bengals host the Ravens in the regular-season finale on New Year's Day. If they want to turn it in to another AFC North title game like the one they had in Pittsburgh two years ago, a win Sunday would seem to be a requirement.

"It's a big game. It's huge," said running back Rex Burkhead, slated to get his most snaps as a pro this Sunday. "You can never know what can happen on down the road. We realize how big of a game it is. We need to go out there and showcase what this team is really made of."

They won't say it. The first sure sign it's an elimination game.

"For us to salvage our season and make it worth something for us, we need to take this opportunity to go on the road and win a big game," Whitworth said. "It's going to take new guys stepping up and the defense continuing to play well and special teams coming up with a big play. If we can do that, we'll have a chance. You don't know how that game's going to play out, but I hope everybody's prepared in that way, that you know what: it's a great opportunity for us to grow this week and go out and do something special."

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