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Bengals Tuesday Evening QB: Amens And Omens

Thank goodness for AJ McCarron, the Bengals say. But was Bengals play Sunday a bad omen for Saturday?

Upon further review, Sunday's Bengals win over the Ravens had all the thrill of a lame Christmas gift. The 24-16 victory and the way the game was won seemed more like an omen for the playoffs rather than a defining moment for the franchise, which it was with a franchise-tying 12th win of the season.

The Bengals did not look like a healthy football team with 15 games of experience under its belt against a five-win Baltimore squad, a unit with 20 players on injured reserve, compared to one for Cincinnati at kickoff. Both played without their starting quarterback. And it certainly looked like it, for stretches at a time.

The locals didn't seem to care, deciding not to show up in droves for Sunday's game in mild January weather. Most of the ones that came, left early without celebrating the hometown team. Clearly, they are waiting for the Bengals to win when it counts, Saturday night at home in a Wild Card game against the Steelers. Cincinnati hasn't won a playoff game since 1990. The people who saw it are 25 years older today.

The Bengals didn't seem that surprised they wound up with the No. 3 seed for the AFC playoffs, precluding a bye week, which presumably would give injured quarterback Andy Dalton an extra week to heal. They shouldn't be, not after failing to convert on nine third-down opportunities against the Ravens on Sunday. The Bengals were outgained by Baltimore, as well.

"Things kind of worked out the way we assumed (regarding the playoffs), and I’m proud of our guys for taking care of what we could control (against Baltimore), which is getting through the football game ... and coming out on the winning end," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "We’ll continue to move forward.”

With a blown chance for a No. 2 seed in Denver, their third loss this season by four points or fewer, and Dalton sidelined with a broken wrist, some in Bengals land are feeling a little dubious about Cincinnati's chances with an offense limping to the finish. Especially against a Pittsburgh squad that overcame its share of injuries to become one of the league's leading offensive juggernauts. The fickle finger of fate seemed to scratch the backs of the Steelers, while flying the middle one at the Bengals.

It's a Steelers team that knows the Bengals very well, possessing a quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger who rarely loses to an Ohio team, let alone Cincinnati. Alas, the Bengals know the Steelers just as well, enough to fear them. The Bengals, of course, will call it respect. When asked if there is an upside to being familiar with an opponent on a short week of rest, Lewis said the Bengals already have done their homework.

“Last week, preparation was done on any of the three teams we could play," Lewis said. "We just played this team four weeks ago, and not long four weeks before that. It’s been 8-9 weeks, and to play three times is a rarity in the NFL.”

The coach said priorities Saturday are: “Take care of the football. And when you have opportunity, take it away. Whether it’s the Steelers, or any team; its paramount. When its playoff time, it becomes more paramount.”

While the Bengals haven't said officially if backup quarterback AJ McCarron will make a fourth career start against Pittsburgh, the team sent the first-year signal caller to the Bengals' weekly quarterback news conference, a big indicator of who will be taking snaps under center. Lewis remained ever confident in Dalton's replacement, and seemed thankful that the Bengals have a competitive No. 2 QB. Dalton had the cast on his right throwing hand removed Monday.

“We feel good about his decision-making those three games," the coach said of McCarron. "We weren’t as thrilled with some of his decisions his first opportunity (in relief of Dalton against Pittsburgh). He’s progressed. Every time we come out, here is a new opportunity. Its part of the plan, the makeup, and what our QB has to do. It’s what any player that touches the football in your offense has to do, which is protect the football.”

When asked if it helps that McCarron has played the Steelers, Lewis said. "I think that’s good to talk about, but it’s all part of the body of work.”

Any update on Dalton?

“Not that I’ll share," Lewis said. "But we have to go into the week regardless of Andy’s status, and we’re going to at least in the early part of the week be preparing with AJ.”

The 0-6 playoff record?

“One-and-six. That’s all," Lewis said. "It’s important to move on, and win. Our guys have worked hard, we have to come out and play great football come Saturday evening. That’s what’s key and paramount. It’s not personal to me. It’s an important game for our football team because it keeps our goals in line. Now that we’re in our ‘second season’, there’s a finality to this. We have to play error-free football. On offense, defense, and special teams, we have to make things happen. Our good players have to rise up and play great; that’s part of winning here in January.”

But, “one win is not what we’re looking for," Lewis said. "I think (one win) will be a relief for outside of this building, yes."

And, the fan support?

“You play in the NFL to win the division and have home-field advantage. Our fans have been great all year, and it’s outstanding," Lewis said. "PBS is loud, and that’s a good thing. I think when you think about our division, we play in loud stadiums. In Paul Brown, we hold a home field advantage here, which is great.”

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