Friday, December 29, 2006

Things are Tough All Over

The Steelers and their fans have been mourning the end of the team's playoff hopes -- some of us actually started in late October -- and as Bill Cowher mentioned in his press conference this past Tuesday misery does love company.

Just ask the Cincinnati Bengals.

Like the Steelers, the Bengals entered the 2006 season with high expectations only to see those cruelly dashed as the result of inconsistent performances. The following is an article by Mark Curnutte of the Cincinnati Enquirer that discusses the disappointment that the Bengals are feeling and combating as they prepare for what is likely to be their season finale this Sunday.

"There was a sense of resignation Wednesday among Bengals players that the postseason might have slipped through their hands Sunday in the snow at Denver.

Or maybe it was in the heat at Tampa Bay, or at home against Atlanta, or in the first five minutes at Baltimore.

The Bengals needed to win against the Broncos, and they would have been in.

Instead, they now need to defeat rival Pittsburgh and get help from hapless Oakland, or Kansas City and San Francisco.

The Bengals' focus, say players and head coach Marvin Lewis, is solely on the Steelers.

'I mean, we all would like to be in a better situation, but the only thing that I can even focus on now is Pittsburgh,' right guard Bobbie Williams said. 'That's who we got. Whatever happens after that happens after that.'

The Bengals are 8-7. The 7-8 Steelers were eliminated last week from defending their Super Bowl XL title with a 31-7 home loss to Baltimore.

Besides its victory, Cincinnati needs a Jets loss to the Raiders, or a Jacksonville loss to the Chiefs and a Denver loss to the 49ers.

'We don't worry about the playoffs,' Lewis said at his news conference Wednesday, tipping off the message he gave his players. 'We're playing the Steelers. You want to talk about the Steelers? We'll talk about the Steelers.'

Pittsburgh has won five consecutive times, including the 2005-06 wild-card playoff game, at Paul Brown Stadium.

'It's disappointing to be in the position we're in,' right tackle Willie Anderson said. 'But our goal is to keep on fighting and try to put ourselves in the best possible position.'

The Bengals won three games in a row to open the season, then lost five of six, then won four in a row and now have lost the past two. The Bengals have not swept the two-game, division series since 1998.

'I definitely think we underachieved this season,' Anderson said. 'Everyone talks about how good this team is and how talented this team is. But for seven games, we weren't. And those seven games really cost us.'

Tailback Rudi Johnson and his blockers will face a Pittsburgh rush defense that is ranked fourth in the NFL at 91.2 yards a game.

'We could be sitting pretty right now,' said Johnson, who needs 138 yards to reach 1,400 yards for the third consecutive season. 'We blew an opportunity. Now we have to depend on other people for help Sunday. But first we have to take care of business. We're not out of it. There are scenarios. But we need help. Go Oakland.'

The Bengals could finish 9-7 for a second consecutive winning season. Still, at 8-7, they are guaranteed a fourth consecutive non-losing season.

But the expectations in Cincinnati now are higher now than .500 seasons. Playoffs are the standard.

'I don't think if you asked anybody at the start of the year where we would be heading into the 16th game of the year, nobody would have predicted it,' free safety Madieu Williams said. 'We dug ourselves the hole. We have one game left as a team, and there would be no better way to go out than to put a positive stamp on the end of the year.'

In 2003, the Bengals entered the season finale at 8-7 and needing a victory at home against the Browns and some help from other teams to make the playoffs. They lost 22-14 to Cleveland.

'I don't think the 2003 game will matter this year,' said defensive tackle John Thornton, who was in his first season with the Bengals in '03.

There was talk Wednesday - from quarterback Carson Palmer, Lewis, Anderson and Thornton - about how the Bengals need to evolve into a less selfish team.

"It's going to test us to see what guys really play for," Thornton said. "Are you playing for each other or playing for yourself?'


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