PHILADELPHIA — Bengals like left tackle Andrew Whitworth and safety Chris Crocker have been where the Eagles are when the clubs meet Thursday (8:20 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12 and NFL Network) and they know 4-9 isn't really so.
Go back to their own four-win seasons in 2008 and 2010, where the groundwork for the playoff berths in the following seasons began to spread. But Crocker says the Bengals "can't let their problems become our problems," and Whitworth thinks the Bengals solved their biggest problems during the Oct. 21 loss to Pittsburgh instead of the start of the four-game winning streak three weeks later.
"The problem we really had we got a little divisive. We started worrying about offense vs. defense and who is doing this and who is doing that. That's really what the mentality was," Whitworth said this week. "(Against) Pittsburgh, I think there was definitely intensity the way we came out the first drive and drove it up and down the field really the way we played in that game. Like I've said before, everyone points to the win streak; my feeling is the season turned (in) the Pittsburgh game. The attitude and intensity we played with in the Pittsburgh game kind of built up all through from there. If we can play that way and continue to build on it we are going to have success."
With rookies like Kevin Zeitler, Trevor Robinson and Vontaze Burfict starting or playing significantly, and first-year regulars like Andrew Hawkins and left guard Clint Boling getting their first doses of heavy NFL snaps, the Bengals were younger than last year's reboot as they tried to rebound from the unexpected losses to Miami and Cleveland.
"I think we just talked about the fact that the whole point of the season is we have a young team that is talented, everyone just has to go and do their job. Don't worry about anybody else's job," Whitworth said. "Just do your job, take care of your guy. If your guy doesn't make the plays then we win the football game. Football is that simple. People call it a team game, but the truth is it's 11 one-on-one matchups. So, if all 11 guys their guy doesn't make the play on offense, defense or special teams, we are going to win a lot of football games. That's all anybody needs to worry about."
Listening to Whitworth, it sounds like the Eagles aren't part of the equation because the Bengals are so immersed in their own angst after giving away Sunday's game to the Cowboys when they blew a nine-point lead in the last 6:35. He said his teammates treated it as a playoff loss.
"I think a lot of guys treated it that way. I think we've been playing that way. We felt like we had to finish the season undefeated to get where we want to get. That's why a lot of guys were devastated by a such a loss that we felt like we won the game and just didn't make the plays that would have sealed the game," he said. "I think a lot of guys are frustrated by that. We took that one to heart, and we've got to take it out on the game Thursday night.
"It's a heartbreaking type of loss. You carry that anger with you a little bit and let it eat at you a little bit, because Thursday night you're going to have to let it all out. It's probably the best thing to happen. I think coming off a win you may be a little more relaxed. We should be mad. We should be upset. We need to make sure we play that way Thursday."
Crocker expects to get the best of what is left in the Eagles arsenal even though there is so much going on.
"That's what it really comes down to. It's like 'all right, we're not going to the playoffs,' and you become a lot more selfish, and that's detrimental to the team," Crocker said. "You're just worried about yourself and how you do on Sundays. It's hard. I understand exactly what they're going through.
"I think certain players that haven't played all season can be more dangerous because they've been sitting around rested and waiting. You see the backup running back (Bryce) Brown. You see guys who haven't really had any playing time and now all of a sudden they get a chance, and it's like, 'man, where was this guy all year?' I think those guys are more dangerous."
Crocker could have been talking about Bengals running back Cedric Benson in 2008 and Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson in 2010, players that came out of nowhere to carry the Bengals in those Decembers.
"When you feel like you're out of it, guys are out there proving why they deserve a roster spot, why they deserve to be on the team," Whitworth said. "You know that's what their coaches are telling them, 'We're having a bad year. Who knows if we'll be here, who knows if you'll be here. Everybody's got to prove it.' That's why it's a dangerous football team, because these guys are going to come out and play to prove their worth. Sometimes that's an inspiration more than anything else. It's going to be a dangerous football team, that's for sure."
DEBUT WITH A BOOM: But playoff contenders can find contributors on their bench in December, too.
Rookie running back Daniel "Boom" Herron became the last draft pick to get into a game last Sunday (fifth-round cornerback Shaun Prater is on injured reserve) and he promptly blocked a punt that somehow rolled back to the Bengals 25 instead of the other way and it left special teams coach Darrin Simmons shaking his head.
"That's kind of how it's been going," said Simmons, whose units the last few weeks have come inches away from blowing games open. "I was happy for Boom. He made a good play not only there, but he did a bunch of good things."
Herron's shot came when the Bengals signed him off the practice squad after running back and special teams leader Cedric Peerman injured his ankle Dec. 2 in San Diego. But Simmons had been working with Herron all season on the scout team as the punt rusher off the edge against the slot because he had to simulate some good ones and he passed with flying colors.
Once Simmons saw Herron nearly block a punt in Atlanta and then actually get his hand on one in Indianapolis during the preseason, Simmons went to work. Herron had never done it in his life until he got to Cincinnati.
"I guess it's one of those things they kind of just put me out there and I was pretty good at it," Herron said this week. "I'm getting better at it, I'm working to get better at it. I'm having a lot of fun doing it, though.
"I just try to get off the ball as fast as I can, make a move and just get to the ball."
Simmons also has Herron doing what he did at Ohio State as an off kick returner in the end zone with Brandon Tate and Adam Jones. Blessed with a solid core of veteran special-teamers like Peerman and linebackers Dan Skuta and Vinny Rey, Simmons has plenty of role models for Herron to study.
"Guys like Skuta, Vinny and guys like that are definitely important to the team and they go a great job on special teams," Herron said. "Like I said, that's where I have to start and keep going from there.
"Skuta has definitely helped me a lot. He's definitely one of our leaders in the special teams room. We're right next to each other on punt return and also the meeting room, too. He's been a lot of help."
LAW FIRM AT LINCOLN: If running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is going to get some carries he didn't against Dallas last Sunday when the Bengals line up against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is going to have to get the right look.
On that last series, Gruden was leery of how Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had deployed to stop the run. Hence the short throws and a third-down sack off a stunt past Zeitler, a guy that had been spotless all day.
"When you're trying to run the ball to eat up the clock, a lot of times defenses aren't going to let you run the ball nine yards up the middle," Gruden said. "In hindsight, I would like to have tried it. We tried to take advantage of the short game and use our big bodies and use some plays we had some success with early in the game.
"The guy (outside backer Anthony Spencer) made a hell of a rush on Zeitler on third-and-five and they had good coverage. It was a well-called play by Mr. Ryan and well executed by them."
Gruden also knows that the running game is part of a bigger picture, but Green-Ellis's 7.5 yards per carry was impressive.
"In hindsight we'd like to run the ball more when you're effective, but we had a lot of two- and three-yard runs also," Gruden said. "We were good enough running the ball, we just weren't good enough with some other things."