Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis had no desire to watch the New England-Buffalo game becaue he had no control of the situation. It's just as well.
The Patriots kept the AFC's second seed and a first-round bye with a win over the Bills, and the Bengals drew the Chargers at 1 p.m. Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium against the Chargers. Lewis got what he wanted: a Sunday game with no break in routine.
The game comes five days shy of the 32nd anniversary of The Freezer Bowl, the AFC Championship game in Cincinnati at Riverfront Stadium in which the Bengals beat the Chargers in minus-59 degree wind chill. But it was only four weeks ago the Bengals beat the Chargers in San Diego, 17-10. The Chargers have won four straight since and the Bengals have won five of their last six.
No such drama this year, it looks like. The National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio has a very tentative forecast of 39 degrees and sunny on Saturday and 39 degrees and rainy on Sunday. The Bengals have about 10,000 tickets available for their first home playoff game since 2009.
If the game sells out by the Thursday 1 p.m. deadline it will be televised on Cincinnati's Channel 12. Tickets may be purchased online here.
Fans also may contact Ticketmaster by phone at 800-745-3000. During business hours, tickets also may be purchased through the Bengals Ticket Hotline at 513-621-3550, or toll-free at 866-621-8383 (TDTD), or in person at the Paul Brown Stadium ticket office.
The Bengals actually have a player on the current roster who was at The Freezer Bowl. Kicker Mike Nugent was there two months before he was born. His mother was a Bengals season-ticket holder and only went to the game when the doctor assured her if she was warm, the baby was warm.
A win on Sunday and the Bengals head to the divisional round the next week in Foxboro against the Patriots.
WHIT TALKS RESPECT: Even more important than the perfect home season, or Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis's record-tying 11th victory, and maybe just as big as the shot at a second seed is that Sunday's 34-17 handling of the Ravens came at the hands of the defending Super Bowl champions that have had their way with the A.J. Green-Andy Dalton Bengals in the AFC North. The Bengals were 1-4 against the Ravens before Sunday, but after cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick's 21-yard pick-six knocked Baltimore out of the playoffs with the help of a 392-yard effort on offense, the Bengals felt the tide turning.
"We were the bullies today," said cornerback Chris Crocker.
Left tackle/guard/wherever on Sunday, Andrew Whitworth agreed and that was his message when he spoke to the team before it ran out of the tunnel for the introductions.
"This game wasn't about being 8-0 home, it was about respect," Whitworth said. "As good as we've played the last couple of years, we've yet to earn respect.
"We've won the division but I don't think anybody thought we'd win. They thought Baltimore would come in here and beat us again. I think people don't look at us in the same light as they do Pittsburgh and Baltimore. When we lose, they say, 'We told you so.' When they lose they say, 'They'll get it fixed and they'll be back.' We don't have respect as good as we are. Not only is this team really talented, if it starts to play the way that commands respect we'll be hard for a lot of people to handle. Until we hold that trophy, we won't have enough (respect)."
TAKE A BOW: How good is this Bengals defense? The best in 30 years. Cincinnati finished third in the NFL rankings, the best finish by the Bengals since the 1983 team led the NFL. But it doesn't begin to describe their dominance at home this season. On Sunday they held an offense to one TD or less for the fourth time. The Bengals also finished the season holding foes to 23 percent on third down at 24-for-104.
INJURY ROUNDUP: This is how banged up the offensive line was in the second half. Center Kyle Cook, who hobbled of the field after the second series with a foot injury, left the rest of the snaps to backup Trevor Robinson. But Cook had to limp back onto the field for field-goal and extra-point protection when tight end Alex Smith suffered a season-ending dislocated wrist.
"We had nobody left," Cook said. "Next man up."
And Cook, who injured his foot simply running chasing an Andy Dalton interception, says he's getting tests on his foot Sunday night. Both Whitworth and head coach Marvin Lewis thought the day's only serious injury was the one to Smith.
"Something popped just running," Cook said. "I didn't get hit at all."
The Bengals showed their depth and resourcefulness up front while losing three starters during the course of the game and still allowing no sacks while generating nearly 400 yards of offense. They've already lost left guard Clint Boling for the year and when left tackle Antony Collins sprained his ankle late in the first half Sunday, Whitworth moved from left guard to left tackle. Mike Pollak, splitting time with Kevin Zeitler at right guard, then went to left guard. Collins came back in, left, and came in again. By the time he came back in for good with about seven minutes left, Whitworth had rolled his ankle and was done for the day.
But as Whitworth left in a boot, he said he was fine and thought the offensive line would be intact for the next game, be it this week or next.
"It's another testament to how great this group has been this year," Whitworth said. "You talk about unsung heroes of the year. What guy hasn't stepped in, played well, and done the job? It's been impressive."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Barely after telling his coaches he would never commit another fourth-down faux pas, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick sent the fans to their cars Sunday with his first NFL touchdown on a 21-yard interception return with 4:07 left that accounted for the final score.
It marked the sixth defensive touchdown at home this season with cornerback Terence Newman's and WILL backer Vontaze Burfict's fumble returns vs. Green Bay and Cleveland, respectively, and pick-sixes by Kirkpatrick, nickel back Chris Crocker, cornerback Adam Jones and linebacker Vinny Rey.
Less than four minutes before, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had flung a fourth-and-10 bomb from midfield that Kirkpatrick caught at the Bengals 16 instead of knocking it down.
"When you're so young and hungry like I am and you see that ball, that's all I saw," Kirkpatrick said. "I told them next time I will not catch the ball. I will drop the ball so our team will be in a better position. Because I don't want to be selfish and I don't want to be looked at as such."
But he recovered when wide receiver Torrey Smith stumbled and Kirkpatrick was there waiting.
"It was a Cover 2 and the guy just fell down. When he fell, I just happened to see the ball at the last second. I was just trying to hold on for a dear life," he said.
Kirkpatrick will give the ball to his father because he called it Sunday morning. When Kirkpatrick stopped by his house before the game after the night at the hotel, his father was there drinking coffee and telling him, "I feel a pick-six today."
"He never talks about it. He's a pastor. He never really played sports besides baseball. When he tells me something like that and it comes true, you just have to thank the man above," Kirkpatrick said. "He deserves the ball today."
And his mother is going to get his No. 27 jersey after he rummaged through the laundry hamper.
"They washed my last one and they were about to start washing this one, but I had to go get it, I had to go save it," he said. "This one is going to Mom."
Kirkpatrick's two picks gave him the team lead with Jones with three each.
» Wide receiver A.J. Green missed the single-season franchise receiving record by 15 yards, but he said he'd rather have the Torry Holt record. On Sunday he passed Holt for the second-most yards by a receiver in his first three years in the NFL, behind only Randy Moss.
"I'll take Torry Holt right now," he said with a smile. "I've got 10 more years in me."
He finished with 1,426 yards, fourth in the NFL.
» Dalton's fourth interception of the game could have been an absolute killer if the Ravens could move the ball. Leading 27-17, Dalton threw it from the Ravens 1 with 8:23 left. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis had just put the ball there with a monstrous second-effort run when the Bengals opted to put running back Giovani Bernard in the backfield with two tight ends and two receivers and instead of checking to a run, Dalton threw a fade route where cornerback Jimmy Smith had a better shot at it than Green.
"It came from the sideline that they were in a different personnel grouping and they were going to outnumber us in the front. We tagged A.J. with a fade ball and he just underthrew it. He should have handed it off. I'm not mad at him. We won the game 34-17. Had we lost the game, it would have stuck out in our minds for a long time. But luckily our defense covered our backs because that was a terrible play and terrible call."
It sounded like everybody took the blame. Dalton said he should have ran it in or handed it off and Green said, "I should have broken it up, batted it down."
It was only Dalton's third career red-zone pick and Lewis reminded people that Dalton had three red-zone touchdown passess last week against Minnesota. Smith's interception snapped the Bengals streak of 14 straight red-zone trips with a touchdown.
"We make the decisions we make and we live with them. Last week we scored touchdowns on those plays and they were great plays weren't they?" Lewis asked. "The quarterback has things that he does based on looks, so he makes the determination at the line of scrimmage."
» Dalton's 33 touchdown passes and 4,296 yards are club records. The 20 interceptions are a career high, boosted by Sunday's career-high four interceptions. But as the clock wound down Sunday, Whitworth had some words for Dalton. "I told him for 25 years nobody has gone 8-0 at home," Whitworth said. "You take four interceptions and somebody will forget that in five minutes. But what they won't be able to say is another quarterback in the last 25 years has gone 8-0 (at home). You wouldn't trade that for anything. I told him because you wouldn't trade not having any interceptions for that is why you are who you are."
» According to NFL.com, Bengals Pro Bowl WILL backer Vontaze Burfict's lead held up and he won the NFL tackling title with 171. The press-box stats on Sunday had him for another 14, one for a loss.
» At 90-85-1, Lewis is back to five games over. 500 in the regular season for the first time since the end of the 2007 season.
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