Vonn Bell, the Bengals strong safety on and off the field, is one of 15 players his team has quietly stockpiled with playoff experience. Cornerback Trae Waynes (hamstring), poised to come off injured reserve if all goes well in practice this week, stands to be the 16th when the Bengals line up Sunday (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against the 49ers at Paul Brown Stadium.
That's a lot of postseason games for a Bengals team regarded as a newcomer to the AFC playoff fray, where, as of the moment, the 7-5 Bengals are one of six teams at 8-4 or 7-5 and not far from the top seed of the 9-4 Patriots.
Before Wednesday's practice, Bell, one of the Bengals defensive captains who played in five playoff games for the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Saints, did what playoff veterans do and advised the other 37 or so guys who haven't been there how they can get there.
"I would say we're not ready yet. We need to take it one game at a time, one week at a time," Bell said. "We need to keep doing our job and doing it well. Before we even talk about the playoff picture we've got to take care of what we've got to take care of first and lay everything how the chips may fall. Let that take care of itself. We're going to keep on going one game at a time and let the big picture take care of itself."
Slot cornerback Mike Hilton, who played in two Steelers playoff games, looked around the locker room a bit surprised when told how many playoff veterans were roaming about. Just on defense. Joining him and Bell in the secondary are Chidobe Awuzie, Eli Apple, Ricardo Allen, Tre Flowers and Vernon Hargreaves III, well as D.J. Reader, Larry Ogunjobi and Trey Hendrickson up front.
"And, yeah, Riley when he was playing (in Minnesota)," said Hilton of right tackle Riley Reiff.
"It's good to have a different number of guys that have been down this road in this situation in the middle of a stretch," said Hilton, looking at Bell. "He's been there, done that. He can take a lot of pressure off a lot of different people."
Hilton knows the one-week-at-at-time deal. He says it might even be a bit early to talk about a stretch run.
"It's close, though," Hilton said. "Pretty soon teams are making that push. It's hard not to pay attention just because it's close to the playoffs. But you have to just win your next game, take care of business each week and it all falls into place."
If you know there are three Bengals playoff veterans and they are punter Kevin Huber, long snapper Clark Harris and tight end C.J. Uzomah, go the head of the class. Uzomah, who took one snap from scrimmage and 11 on special teams as a rookie in the 2015 Wild Card Game, also is saying vet-like things.
"I view the next game as a must-win game," Uzomah said Wednesday. "I don't know how many people say this on the team but I think the approach we have is that the next game is always the most important game, especially when you're in the hunt. That's kind of how and where our mindset is as a team is this next game is a must-win game, and then we'll focus on the game after that. I'm not even concerned about the other four outside of this one, and this game right here is a must-win game for us, yes."
THE LEGEND OF SEAMLESS JOE: If he comes they will build it as Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow continues to work on turning Paul Brown Stadium into a field of dreams come mid-January. With five games left the Bengals are a game out of first place in the AFC North and Burrow is coming off a near 24-point comeback despite dislocating his throwing pinky on the fifth play of last Sunday's loss to the Chargers.
Burrow took off Wednesday's 30-degree practice to rest it and followed the offense around in a hoodie over a stocking cap with hands shoved in the pockets. Head coach Zac Taylor says he'll see how it feels Thursday morning and he may be back throwing.
On Wednesday his mates were appreciative of his efforts, but not surprised.
"He relentless, man. He's a warrior," Bell said. "He'll give it all out for the team and all for this great state of Ohio. He's from here. He bleeds it. He loves this game, he loves the locker room, he loves the guys around him and that really just shows you who he is. He's a warrior man, through and through so hats off to him. We're going to get it nursed up, we're going to get it taken care of so we're going to keep on going."
Uzomah didn't get full details until after the game.
"I personally couldn't tell too much, to be honest," Uzomah said. "And to be honest, I couldn't even tell the severity of what happened until after the game, until I watched film and saw when it was on media. So, yeah, he's tough. He's tough as hell. Obviously, for me, dang, I want to see that in my quarterback. I don't want to see him take those hits, too. Honesty, I did not know it was as bad as it was until after the game."
TEED UP: Wide receiver Tee Higgins (ankle) also didn't practice Wednesday after toughing out the injury on the game's last drive on Sunday, but he's expected to go Sunday and it's a good thing because he's their hottest receiver. He's coming off the first back-to-back 100-yard games of his career and is on pace for 988 yards, a year after he had 908 as a rookie.
"He's playing with a lot of confidence right now. He's playing great the last couple weeks," Burrow said. "We needed him to step up the way some teams have been shading safeties over to Ja'Marr (Chase) to take away the big play with him. Tee has stepped up and become one of the best receivers in the league. Really excited about what he's been doing. I know he is as well and he's going to keep getting better."
INJURY UPDATE: Burrow and Higgins led a raft of players who sat out Wednesday but figure to play on Sunday. Among them are Reader (rest), running back Joe Mixon (cold), and running back Chris Evans (ankle). There is also optimism for Awuzie (foot), who Taylor said won't practice Wednesday and Thursday. He gingerly jogged as he got into position to watch practice.
Good news for the banged-up linebacker corps. Markus Bailey, who went down with shoulder stinger early Sunday, went limited. So did second-year backer Joe Bachie (knee) after he played a career-high 39 snaps when middle linebacker Logan Wilson (shoulder) went down in the second quarter.
Wilson has been ruled out for at least this week and maybe more. Center Trey Hopkins (ankle) and Reiff (ankle), who missed starts last week, look to be on target to play Sunday.