Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 1/5/12
A year ago at this time, no one knew what the future of the Cincinnati Bengals was going to be.Marvin Lewis was renegotiating a contract extension after a 4-12 season and the franchise looked to be in transition with the tenures of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens appearing to be at an end. No one knew though until a couple weeks later that quarterback Carson Palmer wanted out, too.With a rookie quarterback, receiver and offensive coordinator, not to mention a rebuilt linebacker corps, the Bengals are in the playoffs for the second time in three years at 9-7 and take on Houston in an AFC wild-card game.It is the third time that Lewis has had a team in the playoffs. However, as the players will attest, it won't mean a lot unless they actually get a win."It doesn't say much to get a young team in the playoffs if you don't make any noise. It's not really much of a story," safety Chris Crocker said. "We want to win. We have talent and we're very good when we want to. We're going to have an opportunity to beat someone that's good."The Bengals are one of 10 teams to make the playoffs at least twice out of the last three years and one of 15 to make it at least three times the last seven. However, many fans would echo Crocker's sentiment, especially considering that there were only two regular-season sellouts.This team though is different than Lewis' other postseason teams. For one, Dalton and Green are really only beginning their development. When Lewis led the Bengals to the AFC North title, Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco were already in their third and fourth seasons respectively. The defense though was average.In 2009, that was during a season where they were dealing with plenty of off-the-field issues after the passing of the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and wide receiver Chris Henry. By the time the Bengals got to the playoffs that year, they were emotionally spent.Last season, one bad play would fluster this team, which led to 10 straight losses. This year, its one bad play and move on.Said offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth: "None of them are intimidated by anything. They realize the only way to get what you want is to go get it and to work hard for it and to have fun doing it because that is why you play the game in the first place."A lot of guys make it about a lot of different things -- how nice their facilities are, what they get to eat, how much media attention they get, how much money they make -- and you can get caught up in all those things and make life miserable for yourself. Until you realize that you are getting paid to play a game for your career."The biggest advantage though is that the Week 14 loss to the Texans might have been the toughest loss of the season for the Bengals as Houston scored 10 unanswered points in the final five minutes to win 20-19."It's not that far removed, that's the thing that's good," Crocker said. "That last drive, it hurt. It wasn't that one play, it was many plays. Each week is going to be the biggest week of the year."SERIES HISTORY: 7th meeting. Series tied, 3-3, Texans have won the last three games, including 20-19 four weeks ago in Cincinnati.NOTES, QUOTESSome Bengals postseason history--Though the Bengals and Texans have played only six times, Cincinnati's rivalry against teams from Houston spans 62 games. The total includes 57 meetings between the Bengals and the Oilers (now Tennessee Titans). Those 57 games were split evenly, 28-28-1. The Bengals' combined record against Houston teams is 31-31-1, including a 1990 playoff game won by the Bengals 41-14, which is the franchise's last postseason win.--This will be the 15th postseason game in Bengals history and the fifth road game. The Bengals are 6-8 overall and 0-4 in road games but this will be the first road game since Jan. 13, 1991, when they lost 20-10 to the Los Angeles Raiders. The Bengals' other playoff road games were losses to the Colts (1970), Dolphins ('73) and Raiders (in Oakland in '75).--Rudi Johnson's 43 rushing attempts against the Texans in 2003 is a Bengals record. It is tied for the second-most carries in NFL history and tied for the most carries in a non-overtime game. The only player with more carries was Washington's Jamie Morris, who rushed 45 times in an overtime game against the Bengals on Dec. 17, 1988. Johnson had 183 yards in that game, which was won by the Bengals 34-27.--In 2002 at Houston, cornerback Artrell Hawkins returned an interception 102 yards for a TD. That's tied for the longest play in team history. Louis Breeden had a 102-yard interception return at San Diego in 1981 and Eric Bieniemy had a 102-yard kickoff return at the N.Y. Giants in 1997.--Andy Dalton is the 10th rookie quarterback to lead his team to the playoffs.--In wild-card round games, they are 3-3.--Marvin Lewis, in his ninth season as head coach, has risen to third in the NFL in longest current tenure with one team. He trails only Andy Reid of Philadelphia (13th season) and Bill Belichick of New England (12th).BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Consecutive postseason games lost by the Bengals. They lost on the road to the Raiders (1990) and at home to the Steelers (2005) and Jets ('09).QUOTE TO NOTE: "The football gods looked out for us, and now we're in the playoffs. It's sudden death -- you know if you don't win you go home." -- S Chris Crocker on getting into the postseason.STRATEGY AND PERSONNELThe Bengals were in pads on Wednesday for the first time in a couple weeks but were without quarterback Andy Dalton, who was home due to the flu.Said head coach Marvin Lewis after Wednesday's 90-minute practice about Dalton: "He's got the flu and we sent him home and he's fine. It's not a big deal."The only other practice that Dalton has missed this season was on Sept. 14, which was three days after he hurt his wrist during the first half of the season opener at Cleveland. Dalton did practice though the following day and then threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns in a loss at Denver.Bruce Gradkowski saw action in two games this season. He helped rally the Bengals in the second half of the Browns game and then played the fourth quarter of the Week 13 game at Pittsburgh. In those two games, Gradkowski was 8-of-18 for 109 yards with a touchdown and interception.PLAYER NOTES--S Taylor Mays (hamstring) did not practice and could be questionable for Saturday's game. Mays was the only one who did a good job in stopping Owen Daniels in the first game.--OT Anthony Collins (not injury related) did not practice but is expected to be active for the game.--DE Frostee Rucker (shoulder) did not practice but is expected to start.--DT Geno Atkins had a half sack taken away by the Elias Sports Bureau from the Week 14 game against Houston. He had 8.0 sacks, which tied him with Dan Wilkinson for the team record by an interior lineman, but he is now at 7.5.--DE Jonathan Fanene had a half sack added from the Houston game, which gives him a career high at 6.5.GAME PLAN: If the Bengals are going to stop their slide on Sunday, they are going to have to stop the Texans' running game and get pressure on T.J. Yates by keeping him in the pocket. With Andre Johnson back, the linebackers are going to have to do a better job of matching up on the tight ends, which is something the Bengals have struggled with. They also can't give up big plays over the middle on play action.Offensively, they need to do a better job of establishing the run so that Andy Dalton gets opportunities to pass without being flushed out of the pocket. Tight end Jermaine Gresham also needs to come up big with Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell continuing to struggle.MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bengals WR A.J. Green vs. Texans CB Johnathan Joseph: Green has compared Joseph to Cleveland's Joe Haden, but Joseph is more athletic than Haden. Joseph though is not as physical and with Green's height advantage he could have some favorable matchups on deep passes.Bengals RTs Andre Smith and Anthony Collins vs. Texans LDE J.J. Watt: Smith and Collins did well in run blocking against the Steelers but Watt is one of the quicker defensive linemen they will face. He is particularly good in the run game and has nine tackles for loss this season.
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