The Bengals matched the 1981 AFC champs with a 7-1 rush to the playoffs with Sunday's 23-17 win over the Ravens in the season finale at sold-out Paul Brown Stadium and now they're hoping their strong finish can vault them into a Super Bowl like it did for that club. They are the only two teams in club history to win seven of their last eight in a 16-game schedule.
But first looms a rematch with the Texans next weekend in Houston. The Bengals were all for it despite last year's 31-10 drubbing in Reliant Stadium as they departed PBS waiting for the final word on this week's practice schedule.
Not only is it a rematch, it is at the same time on the same day, 4:30 p.m. Saturday on Cincinnati's Channel 5, as the first playoff game in the tournament. If the Bengals win they go to Denver a week later on Jan. 12.
"For one, we're playing indoors," wide receiver A.J. Green said after Sunday's two catches in 26-degree weather. "Two, they got us last year. The biggest thing this year is last year we were hoping to win, this year we expect to win. That's the thing about this season. We were all young last year. We were hoping. It was great to make the playoffs. This year, now we're trying make a run. It's a mindset."
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth says the team will watch the Houston tape and it will all be out there.
"Guys will see what we need to do better against them," Whitworth said. "There'll be a lot of incentive to get that bad taste out of our mouth. It's year to year. It's a different team then than it is now."
Whitworth, in his third playoff run in four years with this club, knows it is on a much better roll than last year's team that went in off a 2-3 December. This one is savoring its first four-win December ever at 4-1.
"Without a doubt," Whitworth said. "I think we found ways to win games. That's the thing we needed to learn as a young team."
The Bengals also feel pretty good on the road. They were 6-2 and got their biggest victory of the year in Pittsburgh last week, making Cincinnati 11-5 on the road the past two seasons.
"Wherever we go next week, we're going to be confident going in," said right end Michael Johnson. "We're going to be in our white road jerseys. We've got a lot of wins in them this year, so hopefully we can keep it going."
*INJURY CHECK: *First things first.
The Bengals may be OK when it comes to injuries for next weekend's Wild Card game. There was cautious optimism surrounding running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (hamstring) and safety Chris Crocker (quad) following Sunday's 23-17 victory over the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium.
BJGE didn't even make it to the first huddle when he reported a tight hamstring in pregame warmups, but it didn't appear to be a major injury. Crocker got hurt early in the first quarter and had to be helped off the field, but he told defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and the media that he was OK.
"You hate to leave the field anytime," Crocker said. "I knew my day was over, so I was just trying to make myself get better."
TEZ WALKS AWAY: And on the next to last day of 2012, the Bengals found a guy to bark back at the big, bad Ravens.
While claiming the team tackling title with a season-high 18 tackles in a performance the stat crew needed to track him with a GPS during the Bengals 23-17 victory over the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium, the most important thing rookie WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict did Sunday is beat the Ravens at their own game of savvy swag that has dominated the AFC North for more than a decade in putting the exclamation point on his rookie-of-the-year candidacy.
Burfict walked away from confrontations with running back Ray Rice and right guard Bobbie Williams that drew personal foul calls on Baltimore and the Ravens weren't pleased in the locker room after the game.
Rice told reporters that Burfict will be a good player when he stops talking trash, while the former Bengal Williams called him "a young pup," and claimed Burfict kicked him.
There are still plenty of people who remember a major reason Burfict went undrafted is because he had 16 personal fouls in his last 26 games at Arizona State.
"I've never seen a kid transform like he has. Nobody wanted him and now he's a rookie of the year candidate," said linebackers coach Paul Guenther. "We told him when he got here, 'If you start to BS around like you did in college, you're not going to last.' He listened. It shows you how far he's come."
Head coach Marvin Lewis, the man that connected with Burfict during his pre-draft workout at Arizona State, approached him in the middle of it all Sunday.
"Coach Lewis had seen me getting a little (upset)," Burfict said. "He said, 'They're trying to come after you. You've just got to keep playing. They've got two personal fouls out of you. They're trying to come after you.' "
Burfict said he had a hard time not retaliating when Rice chopped out his legs as Burfict blitzed and then while Burfict was on the ground it appeared Rice elbowed him in the head.
"It was very hard. I'm not going to lie. About the third time I was like, 'Come on now,' " he said of the Ravens challenging him. "He chopped me. Then I don't know what he wanted to do. He took a cheap shot. Then he got the personal foul. Big man wins."
Burfict won't deny he'll talk out there. "It's all in the game," he said of his chats with Rice, and he had 18 tackles to back it up.
Asked if the old Vontaze would have walked away from Rice, he smiled.
"The old Vontaze would have done exactly what the new Vontaze did. Talk a little (crap) and walked off," he said.
The Ravens may have been asking when the new Burfict walked in. He didn't take a snap in the first game the Bengals and Ravens met, way back in the opener 111 days ago. Since then he has made 14 starts, changed to a position he never played before, and may end up with at least 170 tackles once the coaches hand out their stats in a couple of days. Burfict and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga were in a close race for a while until Burfict caught Maualuga three weeks ago and began to pull away.
"Having so many great players on our defense that can make plays … for me to be leading is truly a blessing," Burfict said. "Hard work paid off.
"Rey and I push each other each week. 'I'm going to get more tackles than you.' I think that starts a fire between me and him and we pretty much run to the ball and want to make more plays. Rey and I really compete every week. That just gives us fire to play a little harder."
On Sunday, the Ravens got burned.
SCORING DUO: Cincinnati's two touchdowns Sunday were one of a kind.
It took until the 16th game of his rookie season, but wide receiver Marvin Jones scored his first NFL touchdown with 39 seconds left in the first half to tie the game at seven when he took a pass over the middle from quarterback Andy Dalton at about the five and made a spin move on linebacker Paul Kruger that turned into some nice yards-after-catch for an 11-yard TD play.
"I saw that from my peripheral vision, and I knew the play design that he was there," Jones said. "I was able to use that and turn right away from it."
When left end Carlos Dunlap turned his first career interception into a 14-yard touchdown return to break the game open at 23-14 with 6:06 left, he made a Lambeau Leap into the end-zone seats. He almost didn't make it into the other end-zone seats when he returned a fumble 35 yards for a touchdown at PBS last year against Indianapolis.
"I wanted it to be a highlight to remember," said Dunlap, who vaulted off a camera stand. "I went too high. I almost flipped over."
But he forgot one thing when he jumped back down.
The ball. So he had to reach back up and ask for it.
"They were nice fans," he said. "I need it to put it in my room."
At the urging of defensive tackle Domata Peko, Dunlap is building a trophy case to put his game balls. Jones isn't quite there yet.
"I've got a couple of balls from the preseason that I just put in the back of my car," he said. "That's probably where I'll put this one."
GRAND ISLAND: What more can Josh Brown do after just four games with the Bengals? After lifting the Bengals into the playoffs with a 43-yard field goal with four seconds left last week in Pittsburgh, he hit three field goals Sunday and the last one was a 38-yarder that gave the Bengals a 16-14 lead with 7:16 left.
It also put him over 1,000 points for his career and he finished the day with 1,003.
"I did not know that. Cool," Brown said. "That means I'm about 1,600 away from the all-time leader. That's a guestimate right there. I think it's Morten Andersen. I'm 33. He retired at 48. I've got a ways to go. It's great to be able to do it and do it here and help this team going."
Actually, Brown is only 1,541 away. He's certainly hitting the ball like he can play a long time and has now hit 11 of 12 field-goal tries since he arrived Dec. 6.
"A lot of things have contributed," Brown said. "The consistency I'm building, the opportunities I'm getting, the coaching from Darrin (Simmons) has been really beneficial to me and I wouldn't give a lot of special teams coaches that credit, quite honestly. I've got a great holder, a great snapper."