The following are transcripts of Marvin Lewis and Carson Palmer press conferences held with the Cincinnati media on Tuesday, as well as interviews with Bengals players in the locker room in preparation for Saturday's Wild Card playoff game against the New York Jets.
Opening comments:ML: "The first thing is, this is the opportunity you look forward to as you prepare for a season. This will be a special day on Saturday. The Jets are a good football team. We are going to have to play a lot better than we did on Sunday night. We are going to have to play good, sound football. Good execution. There were some good things that came out of the game. We've had a chance to get a look (on film) and to understand things better for the guys who played. We can move forward and make corrections."
Q: How differently did you treat the game plan last week, knowing what could happen this week?ML: "We went into the game knowing (a rematch vs. NY Jets) was one of the possibilities. Based upon that, I told the coordinators how I wanted to do things, and we based the game plan on that. It had no affect on the players as far as our planning was concerned. But that doesn't mean anything unless we're sitting here with a win on Saturday afternoon. They are a good football team. You can't let the other team run the field like they did running the football. We need to do a better job on our side running the football. I think that's going to be a key."
Q: How healthy is your team?ML: "I don't think we could be any healthier. Larry (Johnson) is dealing with a little tendinitis in his knee. Ochocinco had his ego bruised when he fell down before the game. He'll be rested today. Other than that, I think he's healthy, as he's Twittered all over America. That's what happens. The only way to come back from that is to put up now. Now is the time for all of us to put up.
Q: How much does the defense change with (Chris) Crocker, (Robert) Geathers, and (Domata) Peko possibly back in action this week?ML: "We gain three starting, experienced players. If we had four captains on defense, they would be three of the four. Those are the guys. It was good to rest Robert last weekend. It was good to give Peko and Chris more time. Now, as we know, this is the finality of where we are. You play to be the best team each and every opportunity. The better team moves on. I think we're excited about that. This is the first time Chris Crocker has been in the playoffs in his career. This is a big deal to him."
Q: Do you think teams deserve to make the choice to sit players before the playoffs?ML: "As I see it, that's why you work to earn the spots where you can do that. But did I want us to come out and play poorly? No. Not at all. I could have gotten 12 guys from 'Jones Junior High,' and we probably would have played better. It's a tough mental thing, a situation like we faced, with everyone making predictions about what's going to happen. These guys are human. We're through it. OK. We need to come back and with the resiliency we've shown all season. It comes down to brass tacks, and we need to fundamentally play football."
Q: Is there a common thread why the defense has allowed three 100-yard rushing games over the last four weeks?ML: "Last week, we gave up two explosive runs. Otherwise, for the other 50 runs they had, we played pretty good football (laughs). On two runs, they had 90-some yards. But, you don't get to take those runs away. We need to do a better job of tackling. When you don't play very good run defense it comes down to playing blocks, tackling, and so forth. That's the biggest reason why. Obviously, it was a missed tackle at Minnesota. Against Kansas City, we missed one tackle on the sideline, and the guy had a 22-yard run."
Q: How much are you looking forward to this playoff game?ML: "It's been a long time for this city, this organization, to be in the postseason. So, this is big. That's why it is important to me. For these guys, they don't know anything about that. These guys don't know what's going on next week. Even me, when you just asked, I couldn't remember who we played four weeks ago. For me, this is important."
Q: Because of the makeup of this team, do they know better than the 2005 team that this may be just one chance?ML: "I think they know that. They know the finality of it. Unless you are holding up that bad boy (Vince Lombardi Trophy) at the end, you're falling all of a cliff. That's the key thing."
Q: Is there a tangible effect of inspiration from what this team has gone through off the field?ML: "Events have taught us that you're blessed to be doing what you're doing each and every day. They have done a nice job of supporting and loving each other, and of making the very best of each and every day. They understand that."
Q: Would Keiwan Ratliff be able to play right away?ML: "Yes. We wouldn't have signed him if we didn't think he could come in and play right away if we needed him. He brings some versatility. He's familiar with most of us. He has no idea about (Mike) Zimmer and that's a good thing (laughs). He is a very quick-witted learning guy with football. He would provide a lot of flexibility for us if indeed he would be a guy I would suit up on Saturday."
Q: Do you have any emotions left over from loss to Jets?CP: "None. As a team, we got together after the game, we talked about it, and we let it go. We let it go Sunday night. A lot of guys came in yesterday and got a workout and kind of flushed their bodies out, looked at the film and got past it. It was one of those games you can't let simmer. You can't let it make you mad, and you can't let it frustrate you. You've just got to get past it, and we've gotten past it. It's a fresh week, it's a new season, and that's been stressed to us in the locker room after the game. And we're ready to play again."
Q: Was the game plan tailored differently, knowing this rematch was a possibility, or is there some other reason to believe it will be different this time? CP: "That we'll play different? I guess there isn't any as far as from an outsider, from a fan's point of view. But from us, we'll have more guys suited up, more guys starting, and there's a lot more on the line. It's a new season. We're 0-0, they're 0-0. We're not going to worry about them beating us last week, and they're probably not holding a whole lot with that win and the way they beat us, because it's a new season and it's time to go now."
Q: Was there anything in the back of your minds on Sunday night that this wasn't what your team is all about?CP: "Absolutely. When this team is playing in big games in Pittsburgh, in Baltimore, in San Diego, in big atmospheres, we've played a lot differently than we have against some of the lesser competition. But this is a big atmosphere against a good team and a very good defense, obviously a team that can run the ball. So we understand how big the game is. We understand it's you win or you go home, and I like our guys in that situation. I like our team with that mindset going into this game."
Q: Can you guys successfully just turn it on and turn it off?CP: "You never want to turn it off. You never want to have a letdown. You never want to go out and play the way we did on Sunday night. That obviously was not the intention to get beat like that, or to get beat period. We are refreshed, we are ready. We have a lot of work to do between now and Saturday, but we understand the goal and the opportunity that we have, and we are going to do everything we can not to let it slip away."
Q: How much has only getting to throw one pass in the 2005 playoff game driven you?CP: "That has driven, but really what drives you is watching the Wild Card round at home. Flying back to your hometown and watching it with your family or friends, whatever the case may be, that drives you. Sitting at home and everybody is having a good time, slapping high fives and enjoying the game. Any NFL player sitting at home watching games is putting on a show. Nobody enjoys watching the first round, second round, third round, the Super Bowl round. It's tough to do. I think that is something that has really driven our team, and definitely me."
Q: It seems like it took awhile for this team to shake off the playoff loss in 2005. Is that accurate?CP: "I don't think it had anything specifically to do with that game. There were a whole lot of other reasons that had to do with why we didn't get back to the playoffs. I wouldn't say the reason we haven't been to the playoffs since that year is because of that game. There are a number of other circumstances that have made that be the outcome. It was a tough loss. It's tough to lose and then watch the team that you lost to go to the Super Bowl and win it. I don't think that has been an issue or something that has been in the back of anybody's mind."
Q: How do you sum up where the offense is right now?CP: "We need to catch fire and we need to get hot. We haven't been hot lately, but this is a great opportunity to go out against a very good defense and put on our best (performance). We want to put up as many points as possible, keep the chains moving, be successful on third down and in the red zone and give ourselves that energy and excitement going through the rest of the playoffs. We want to take the 'if we can do this against the best and the only thing that can stop us is ourselves' type of attitude. We will have our hands full. They have a very good front, a very good secondary and are very well coached. We definitely have our work cut out for us, but we need to catch fire and let it carry us through the playoffs."
Q: Can you explain why the offense hasn't been at its best as a unit?CP: "Penalties have been a big reason. Other than that, it's just execution. There are a number of reasons, but what it comes down to is execution and we have been out-executed. Any time that you start out a drive first-and-15, first-and-20, you get a penalty on third down and you are in third and long, it's going to be tough, and we have had a number of those situations throughout the year. It's something that we got better with against Kansas City. And we need to keep improving in that area, because when we do that our chances of succeeding are much better."
Q: How much rope-a-dope was going on Sunday night, in that you didn't want to show them anything they could use for this week?CP: "I don't think any. They know who we are. They've seen us play 16 games. They might think we were hiding some stuff, we might think they were hiding some stuff, it's always a possibility. You have to prepare for everything. For the most part, we have enough film of them to see what their base and core stuff is, and they have enough of us. There will be a wrinkle or two that they will throw in, and we're going to try to do the same to them. It's tough to, all of a sudden, have a totally new game plan this late in the year. It's different if it's week one and you're hiding stuff during the preseason. But this is a different situation."
Q:How much does having Cedric Benson playing change this offense?CP: "Tremendously. Cedric brings an attitude, a presence. He has been the guy all year long and now, giving him that week off, which was really smart for the Bengals to do, he is fresh. Not that he was worn down, because he is one of those guys that as the game goes on, he is better. He starts running through more tackles and wears the defense down. It will be great to have Cedric back."
Q: There were a couple dropped balls last week; was it a cold weather thing?CP: "I don't think so, because we practice in cold weather every day. Maybe it was a concentration thing or a ball placement thing – I could put it in a better spot. That is something that we just need to keep working on, and we will get at it today."
Q: Did you get a feel for the Jets defense and what they were trying to do?CP: "It is similar to some of the stuff we have played in the past, but definitely with some new wrinkles from what he (Rex Ryan) was doing in Baltimore. They do what they do well, and they did a great job of stopping us. They confuse you, and it makes it really difficult to figure out who is who. They do a good job of that because they move fast and are athletic. They do a good job of what they are doing, which is outright trying to confuse you. They have guys that can cover you downfield and guys that can blanket your guys. It is a very good defense, a very physical defense up front and good on the back end."
Q: Is this Jets defense similar to the Ravens defense that Rex Ryan had last season?CP: "It is similar in some ways, but different personnel makes a big difference, obviously. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs are different players than what they have. But Bart Scott is a great player, both corners are very good players, the safeties are good. They have players that are just as good, just different guys at different positions."
Q: What is the biggest difference between this team and the team you played with a year ago?CP: "Maturity. We have very professional guys – guys that haven't won a lot of games and know why they haven't won a lot of games. And they realize how special this opportunity is. There is nothing that says we can't win the Super Bowl, and there are a bunch of guys in the locker room that believe that. In the past, it wasn't that way."
Q: You have only had less than a half of play in the playoffs in your career. Do you appreciate this opportunity, personally?CP: "Absolutely. This doesn't happen every year. It doesn't happen every year to anybody. When you come into the league and you go to the playoffs right away, you just assume that is what it is and it will be that way every year. But because of injuries, free agency, coaching changes, a number of difference circumstances, it is not the norm to be in the playoffs every single year. It's hard not to think that coming into the league and right away going. But now, seven years in and this is only my second time going, I realize how special the opportunity is and how much we need to take advantage of it, because it doesn't come around often."
Q: Do you realize as a quarterback the importance winning playoff games?CP: "Absolutely, it is how quarterbacks are remembered, created, judged."
Q: Was there ever a point where you wondered if you would get back to this point?CP: "I always assumed and hoped and prayed that I would. I just didn't know what year it would be."
Q: Chad Ochocinco has been though a lot since the 2005 playoff game. Has he changed? If so, how?CP: "I think anybody after three or four years in the NFL grows up and matures, figures things out. Chad has definitely matured since the last playoff game."
Q: You guys were not the only playoff-bound team not to play well last week. Do you have any thoughts on the debate of teams resting players in the last weeks?CP: "First and foremost, you want to be fresh. You want to be healthy. If you have guys that are banged up at all – guys like Robert Geathers, Domata Peko, Cedric (Benson) – if guys have a little bit of an ailment, get them fresh, because that's all that matters. To say that you lose momentum is overrated because a playoff game is so much different than playing in a regular season game, especially a regular season game that doesn't really matter if you win or lose. It's different for the Jets because it's a one-game season for them last week, now it's a one-game season for them again. But teams like New Orleans last week, I am sure in the back of their minds they were thinking 'let's be fresh, let's be healthy because we can make a run at it.' You get energy when you get into a stadium, whether you're home or away, because there is so much excitement and electricity that you are ready to play, and you will get that rhythm back just feeding off the crowd and the environment you are in."
Q: How do you carry Chris Henry's spirit into the postseason?CP: "I don't know. I know that nobody will forget about Chris. It's not one of those clichés – a 'win this for Chris' type deal – because that is not what it's about. Our memories of Chris are special to each one of us, individually. Some guys weren't around as much and didn't know him as well, and other guys have been around him his entire career here. Each guy holds Chris in a different light and remembers him in a different way. We are playing football. We are here to get a playoff win and find a way to beat these guys and move on to the next round. But in no way are we going to have any clichés like that, that's not what it's about."
Q: You and Chris were hurt on the same play in the last playoff game. I assume you figured you would throw to him again in the playoffs:CP: "Chris was a big part of our offense and a part of our offense that we weren't able to replace. Chris was a friend that is missed more than anything."
Q: This team has had to overcome a lot of adversity this year. Is it the locker room, or has Marvin Lewis changed?CP: "I think it is the guys in the locker room. We have guys in the locker room that have lost friends at young ages, have lost teammates or family members at young ages. Then we have guys like me that haven't lost anybody close to my age. So we have different guys with different backgrounds, and we have hung together as a team. We have been brought closer together as a team by different situations we have been through. I think it's good to have that. It's good to have a solid foundation of guys in your locker room."
Q: What can you hope to see and hear from your fans that will make the home field advantage even better?CP: "Hopefully no boos. That would be nice for once this season. Boos do not help us win football games."
Q: Is this team suffering from a letdown, emotionally, after the loss at the Meadowlands?AW: "With the struggles, tragedies and everything this team has endured this season, this team has struggled emotionally at times. It's been a grind. We had a fast start. We dealt with those unfortunate situations. We need to get back to the, 'Win or go home' attitude. This team plays well with that attitude. It needs to get back to that attitude."
Q: How do you take Chris Henry's spirit with you into the playoffs?AW: "By remembering the things that made him special to us, like how he changed his life and the plays he made on the field. He started to change the way he did things and care about people. He mentored some of the younger players. He really started to take care of all of the things that make a professional athlete. This team needs to act like that—like pros—in the playoffs."
Q: In a way, does he mirror this team?AW: "Yes. Last year at this time, we were a team with a totally different attitude and scheme. No one believed in us. He was a guy who had been in a lot of trouble and no one believed in him. He changed his life around and we turned this organization around in one year's time."
Q: What was the feeling like before last week's game at the Meadowlands?AW: "There were guys not knowing if they were going to play or not play. There was not a lot of communication either way. When guys saw the results from earlier in the day of Houston beating New England, it was, 'OK maybe we are playing tonight.' You can't perform very well at this level when you play a team as talented as (the Jets), that has so much to play, for when you're not emotionally prepared."
Q: Does this team need to be in a must-win situation?AW: "When this team has had its back against the wall, when we've had 80 or 90 yards to win the game, we've been at our best. For some reason, we love to be in that situation. We seem to thrive in that situation. What better way than to get thrashed by a team and have to play them against the next week, to find our backs against the wall in the playoffs."
Q: How is your injured knee today?CO: "There is a little medicine in there. With a little medicine in there tomorrow, I'll be fine."
Q: What happened to cause you to fall in New York?CO: "There were little, mini-ice rinks outside of the hashes. When you're on ice, you have no grip. There were little, mini-ice rinks which caused me to fall. I was going full speed at the time and I wasn't expecting it. Before the game, Carson and I were working inside the trenches throwing the ball. When I fell, I fell hard and wasn't able to recover. I hurt myself pretty bad. I tried to play."
Q: What is the difference between this team now and a week ago?CO: "We have a lot of confidence in what we can do. We've had a lot of ups and downs all season long. We've found ways to win through tough situations. I'm not sure where everybody's mindset was going into the game. We didn't play well at all. We need to change the necessary things to ensure a better outcome."
Q: What caused you to feel you needed to apologize after the game last week?CO: "I felt bad. I'm sure my teammates felt the same way. Although it didn't affect the outcome for the playoffs, to lose like that is not a good feeling."
Q: Carson Palmer said the offense is not where he wants it to be. Where is the offense?CO: "The offense starts with No. 32 (Cedric Benson). It hasn't been where we've wanted it to be all year. We're a work in progress."
Q: Is it hard to play a team two consecutive weeks?CO: "It's easier. It makes the game plan much easier. There's only so much they can change from what they showed last week."
Q: The Bengals have many players who have never been to the playoffs before. What's your message to those players making their first NFL postseason appearance?CO: "That 2005 game (vs. Steelers) doesn't count. I've never played in the playoffs. It was very short. This is really my first playoff game also."
Q: Is it easy to turn the page and prepare for the Jets after the loss in the regular-season finale?CB: "Yes. You have to. It's a much more important game this Saturday. It's win or go home. It's very easy to put that game behind us."
Q: How do the Bengals move the ball better this week against the Jets defense?CB: "You've got to come ready to play, regardless of things we can't control. We have to play the game that got us into this position."
Q: Is it easier or harder to play the same team two consecutive weeks?CB: "I don't know. It makes the week easier. It's easier to prepare. You know what you're going to get. But you can always expect some new things."
Q: Did you want to play last Sunday night?CB: "Absolutely. It was Marvin's decision. I had to roll with it. I didn't know what to expect. It can only help me. It's one less week of hits."