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'Our Junior Super Bowl'

10-02, 6:10 p.m.


Yes, yes, every game in the NFL is big. But when you're the winless Bengals, Sunday's game against the Steelers is the difference between big and must.

For one thing, a Cincinnati win and losses from Baltimore and Cleveland would pull the Bengals within 1 ½ games of first in the No One Wants It AFC North.

"It's our Junior Super Bowl," said Bengals defensive tackle Oliver Gibson. "That's the grand irony and it's been told to us several times. You don't get many second chances in this life and in this league and to go 0-5 and still be in the race, if you don't take advantage of it, you don't deserve it."

For another, the Bengals have a bye next week and face two weeks of hearing if they will be the first team to go 0-16, or if they will be the first Bengals' team to win less than three games.

"It's a must game," said quarterback Jon Kitna. "You go into the bye week 0-6, and guys aren't even thinking about football. But with a win, you're going to be thinking how you could have been 3-3 and how we've got something started and how we can build on it."

There has been speculation that this coming Monday would be the natural spot to remove head coach Dick LeBeau if the club is 0-6. But Bengals President Mike Brown isn't taking questions on the topic and LeBeau has already given the players their bye week schedule in which they have next weekend off.

"I hope not. I personally hope not," said Gibson of a possible change. "Because Coach Dick has given us every opportunity to succeed. If we don't, I think it's our fault. It's my fault for not

getting to the passer more It's my fault for taking stupid penalties. Coach Dick is an excellent coach. What I can do is get my butt in gear and make sure I play better."

Right outside linebacker Takeo Spikes won't even talk about what a loss means.

"But I'll tell you what a win does," Spikes said. "It's going to give us momentum and confidence going into the bye and it will be the first step to turning it around. It's big."

"Big because we're in a division where nobody has taken control," said middle linebacker Brian Simmons. "It's amazing to think we've lost five games and we're still not out of it. But here we are. Let's face it. We just need a win, period."

Gibson certainly will raise eyebrows with his opinion that, "We have a good system here. We want things to continue progressing." Gibson wonders what will happen going into the bye week blanked: "Changes will be made, you would think. I would worry about that for myself, that they might bring in a new pass rusher for the one technique. I don't have anything to do with coaching, but I hope it doesn't change there."

Last year, many players concede that they got ahead of themselves thinking about the playoffs when they were 4-3 and then lost seven straight. Kitna is counseling to just think about winning this one and not about the race. Gibson notes only the Rams, Vikings and Bengals are winless at this late date.

"Guys know where the race is, but I think we're looking at the smaller picture," Gibson said. "We need to be thinking about winning that first game, which most everybody else has. Right now, we're a play-by-play, quarter-by-quarter team."

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