A 2-1 record in the final three games - following a victory at Baltimore - would give the Bengals the division title even if the Ravens went 3-0 to finish in a 10-6 tie. But Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is looking only at the Ravens. "We don't have to worry about that," he said Monday when asked about playoff expectations. "We just have to worry about this next game. We are not in a situation where we can look ahead of ourselves, because everything is right there in front of us."
A loss at Baltimore puts the Bengals at a decided disadvantage down the stretch. They have home games against the 49ers and Browns sandwiched around a trip to play the 9-3 Rams at St. Louis. The record of the Bengals' final three opponents is 18-18. Baltimore's final three opponents currently have an 11-25 composite record. The Bengals defeated Baltimore 34-26 on Oct. 19 at Paul Brown Stadium. The game saved the season, improving the Bengals to 2-4 and starting a 6-1 run that put them into playoff contention in December for the first time since the 1990 season.
The Ravens know the Bengals of Week 14 are different than the Bengals of Week 7. "Going in the first game, our mindset was, 'It's going to be the same old Bengals. We should go in there and win,'" Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware said. "Now, our mindset is, `This is a great football team.'"
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES --CB Jeff Burris is likely to remain doubtful for the game Sunday at Baltimore. He is still recovering from a second concussion he suffered at Arizona on Nov. 2.
--TE Reggie Kelly returned to the lineup at Pittsburgh and was a little sore afterwards, coach Marvin Lewis said Monday.
--WR Chad Johnson remains first in the AFC with 1,105 receiving yards, which is good for third in the NFL after 12 games.
--QB Jon Kitna has the fourth best passer rating, 91.2, in the AFC, which is seventh in the NFL. He has 18 touchdown passes and one interception in the seven victories. --RB Rudi Johnson, because of inconsistent statistics supplied by the NFL, has 691 rushing yards for the season - not 701.
--PK Shayne Graham leads the team with 82 points and is 17 of 19 on field goals. His 82 points are the most for any Bengal player since 1996 when kicker Doug Pelfrey had 110.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Congratulations - once again. Win the month of December." -- Coach Marvin Lewis, writing on the bottom of a practice- and workout-schedule sheet placed in players' lockers Monday morning.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Jon Kitna tossed three more touchdown passes in the 24-20 victory at Pittsburgh. He has nine, against no interceptions, in the past three games. The offensive line allowed only one sack to an aggressive Pittsburgh front seven. Chad Johnson had one touchdown catch and a second consecutive 100-yard game. Peter Warrick continues to be effective on third down. Kitna has 19 touchdown passes and just four interceptions in the past nine games, when the Bengals are 7-2.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The Bengals had just 113 rushing yards, but the average was 4.5 on 25 carries. They had few opportunities in the second half, when the Steelers controlled the ball. The 113 yards snapped a string of three 200-yard rushing games.
PASS DEFENSE: C -- Pittsburgh quarterback Tommy Maddox threw for 335 yards, but the Bengals sacked him six times for 36 yards. The Bengals had an interception from cornerback Artrell Hawkins, but the prevent defense allowed the Steelers to march down the field to score a go-ahead touchdown with 1:05 remaining. There could be problems headed to Baltimore to play a hot Baltimore team. Against the Steelers, the Bengals gave up a combined 21 receptions for 261 yards to Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Steelers were committed to the run, and the Bengals held them to 85 yards on 26 carries. Jerome Bettis did get 62 yards, but he needed 20 carries. Middle linebacker Kevin Hardy keyed on Bettis and led the team with 14 legitimate tackles. The Bengals defensive line continues to play better each week against the run.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- After the Bengals fell behind, kickoff returner Brandon Bennett took a short kickoff and set the Bengals up with a 27-yard return at the Bengals 48-yard line. Kyle Richardson's punting was inconsistent. The Bengals did a good job limiting Antwaan Randle El to zero return yards and one fair catch. Kicker Shayne Graham continues to perform as one of the season's top pickups.
COACHING: A -- Marvin Lewis refused to let his team get overwhelmed by the intensity of Heinz Field. The team now plays with his confidence and showed it with the last-minute comeback drive. Offensive coordinator is calling aggressive, confident games, and special teams coach Darrin Simmons has turned the kicking game from liability to asset.