Updated: 1-8-13, 6:30 a.m.
Chris Crocker thinks he's a good enough player to be back and he thinks his team is good enough to be mentioned in the same breath with Pittsburgh and Baltimore in an AFC North transition year.
"If you're an outsider looking in and you can't see that, then you're truly blind. We put it on tape," Crocker said. "We're a force to be reckoned with. It's not going to be just Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Cincinnati s right at the top of that food chain. How we won games in the last half of the season is just going to give us more confidence."
Crocker turns 33 in March, and early April marks the year anniversary the Bengals cut him after a poor stretch run they decided to go with younger safeties. But they weren't satisfied with the youth and Crocker's knee bounced back well enough from an offseason procedure that he was signed in late September. The coaches feel like he was a major reason the defense came together down the stretch.
Crocker wants to be back. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer wants him back.
"At least it's something to talk about," Crocker said. "I think I'm a valuable asset to this team. Not only am I good player, I can help."
Crocker was the anti-Robert Griffin III last weekend. While Griffin, the Redskins quarterback, tried to go on a bad knee, Crocker, the Bengals defensive quarterback, didn't go on the injured quad he received the week before in the regular-season finale against the Ravens.
"It wouldn't have been a good day to go out there and not be able to do the things I knew I needed to do as a defensive back," Crocker said. "It wouldn't have been good."
Crocker played on a bad knee a lot of last season and it came back to haunt when he and everyone else struggled against Texans running back Arian Foster in last year's Wild Card. Foster stiff-armed Crocker on the 42-yard clinching run and the Bengals still haven't stopped him without a healthy Crocker. Foster went for 153 yards last year and 140 Saturday.
BROWN WANTS TO RETURN: Indications are the Bengals are going to approach Josh Brown in an effort to sign him as their kicker for next season and he said Monday the Bengals fit his requirement as a contender. With Mike Nugent's one-year deal as the club's franchise free agent expiring, there is a vacancy and what more could Brown do to fill it?
Brown arrived after four tough seasons in St. Louis and he loved getting back to the playoffs. And he had a big part of it after he signed to replace the injured Nugent on Dec. 6 and kicked in the final five games. His 43-yarder with four seconds left at Heinz Field secured the playoff berth in the 13-10 win over the Steelers on Dec. 23 and in his team-leading 10th postseason game on Saturday he was 2-for-2.
"I'm looking to play a long time and a lot longer. You have to think about the future and losing is no fun. I had to go through that for four years. I don't want to go through that again," Brown said. "I want it to be like this year. I want to have a chance for the playoffs every year and the opportunity to win the Super Bowl. That's the point of playing the game."
"Absolutely, (there is) a good young core group," Brown said when asked if the Bengals fit the bill. "A good nucleus of leaders that you can continue to be a playoff team every single year. We've got to continue to build on that and put good people around them. That's the administration's goal, to put a better team on the field every year and I know they'll try and do that. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to be a part of that."
The 33-year-old Brown said he has told his wife he won't think about giving up kicking until he's 40. So he says he'll go back home to Seattle, take a two-week break, try to coach his son's basketball team to another championship and "prepare as if I'm a starter somewhere."
"We got engrossed in this team and this city very quickly," Brown said. "If the organization wants me back, we'll put all options on the table and talk it out. It would be great to be here."
LISTING:Asked about his 0-4 playoff record, head coach Marvin Lewis shook his head and said "Susan Lucci," referring to the long-time soap opera star whom went 18 nominations before winning an Emmy.
Saturday's loss means that next season Lewis is going to move past Norm Van Brocklin into second place on the list of coaches who have coached the most regular-season games without a playoff win. Van Brocklin (173) and Lewis (160) trail leader Jim Mora (231).
"I can't wait to get off the next list you put before me. I'm looking forward to next season so I can get off that list for you," Lewis said Monday in his season wrap news conference. "Just keep building the list and we'll keep knocking them down. I thought I had his one knocked down. I was looking forward to knocking this one down for you."
REY REFLECTS: Zimmer looks to be in his corner even though middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is down on himself for his performance Saturday. Maualuga went as far to say Monday that he felt like the playoff game was an audition for the team to pursue him in free agency with his deal up, and now he's not sure if the team wants him back.
"I felt as if the playoff game was sort of like, if I perform well, they would want me. I don't know if they want me, but I do know I didn't perform well. If I did well, good results will happen," Maualuga said. "I felt as if those plays cost our defense due to my actions and where I was and how I didn't execute it. So who knows? I really don't know if they want me back."
But Zimmer said the Bengals aren't going to base anything off one game, and said he'd like to get all his guys back in free agency.
"That's silly. Hey, if I wrote a report on me in one game it probably wouldn't be good either but hopefully people look at the course of the four seasons," Zimmer said.
Maualuga did clarify some postgame remarks that he felt came out the wrong way and were then misinterpreted about him not giving his all in the first half.
"I might have put it the wrong way. It's not that I didn't give it my all in the first half, I felt as if it wasn't enough," Maualuga said. "Obviously I strap on my helmet and put my shoulder pads on knowing that I am ready, knowing that I am physically prepared to go out there and play a football game. It's not like I stepped out there and didn't want to be there.
"My mindset was in the right place. But the outcome of how I wanted to play wasn't what came out. Those big plays that I gave up, they're plays that we've been running through in practice and I knew that they were coming. But it didn't play out how I wanted it to play out. That's what I meant by saying I didn't give everything I had."
The two plays sticking out in Maualuga's mind were a missed tackle on a draw by Texans running back Arian Foster for 13 yards right after the Bengals went ahead, 7-6, and an 18-yard pass to tight end Owen Daniels on the second series that pulled the Texans out of a hole from their 7-yard line on second-and-eight and led to a field goal.
"I think on the second series with the tight end coming across my face. I think it was a third down or a second, but they were backed up," he said. "I just didn't execute it. And yeah, that draw. Those plays I gave up, I don't know if it would've changed the outcome, but we definitely would've been off the field and given our offense a better chance to make some plays."
Zimmer says Maualuga is putting too much heat on himself.
"He takes everything very hard, takes everything to heart and sometimes that holds him back. We were talking about it today," Zimmer said. "That was two days ago that we played the game. I said, 'You've got to let that go.' That's not doing him any good to harbor all those thoughts that he let this guy down or me team down or the team down. Because he didn't.
"He's very conscientious about not making a mistake, and if he does, it stays with him a little bit, yeah. He made some good plays in that game, too. Some real good plays. But because he's the middle linebacker, he's like the quarterback. A lot of people probably don't see the plays where the defensive line messed up, and there was enough of those, too. Or they don't see what the corner or safety did if the ball's not thrown to them. Know what I mean? There were others where he just happened to be there and for some reason he's kind of a lightning rod for people."
A few quick-hitters as the Bengals cleaned out their lockers Monday:
» Zimmer said no clubs had contacted him about head coaching opportunities.
» Slot receiver Andrew Hawkins revealed that he played Saturday's game under the weather after falling ill to a 102-degree temperature.
» Quarterback Andy Dalton said he's confident of his standing with the club after leading it to back-to-back postseason berths for the first time in 30 years and he likes the emerging stability at the wide receiver spot.
The Cincinnati Chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America, the beat writers who cover Bengals on a daily basis, named defensive tackle Geno Atkins as the Bengals 2012 Most Valuable Player and left tackle Andrew Whitworth as the recipient of the organization's annual "Good Guy" award.
In a press release the Bengals said:
In his third season, Atkins has gained recognition as one of the NFL's elite DTs, earning his second Pro Bowl spot and his first as a starter. His 12.5 sacks led all NFL interior linemen and was a team record for a Bengals defensive tackle, topping Dan Wilkinson's 8.0 from 1996.
"Over the past two seasons, one of the constants of this team has been the performance of the defensive line, and the catalyst of the pass rush has been Atkins," said PFWA spokesman Joe Reedy, Bengals beat writer for The Cincinnati Enquirer. "As defensive line coach Jay Hayes said earlier in the year, it's 'freakish' how he gets to the quarterback. Since coming into the league in 2010, Geno has been on a steady pace to becoming one of the top interior defensive linemen in the NFL."
Whitworth, who played his seventh NFL season in 2012, is the 11th recipient of the PFWA's "Good Guy" award, given for excellent relations with local media.
"Whit has always been one of the go-to guys in the locker room and has set an example as a team leader to help us bring our readers the information that they so strongly desire," Reedy said. "His candor and perspective during the week and following games has been much appreciated. As a veteran and the team's NFLPA player rep, he has also been an invaluable resource on league matters."
Whitworth is now the fourth Bengal to have won both the Good Guy and MVP awards. He was named MVP in 2010. Others to win both awards have been T Willie Anderson, WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh and QB Carson Palmer.
Other past MVP winners were QB Jon Kitna (2002-03), RB Rudi Johnson (2004), Carson Palmer (2005), Willie Anderson (2006), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (2007-08), CBs Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph (2009), Whitworth (2010) and QB Andy Dalton (2011).
Past "Good Guy" winners have been FB Lorenzo Neal, Anderson, RB Brandon Bennett, LB Brian Simmons, DT John Thornton, Houshmandzadeh, DT Bryan Robinson, G Bobbie Williams, Palmer, RB Cedric Benson and S Chris Crocker.