The Cincinnati Bengals continue their quest to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1990 when they begin a pivotal three-game stretch against AFC North opponents with a matchup against the Baltimore Ravens.
“This (stretch) is going to be rough, but it’s (something) we look forward to because it’s going to have a chance to take us to a position we’ve never been in before,” Bengals offensive lineman Willie Anderson said. “It’s a challenge to look forward to.”
Coach Marvin Lewis has yet to mention the word “playoffs” to his team, preferring to focus on the Ravens. But the Bengals all believe they can compete with the league’s elite following their 45-37 loss last Sunday to the undefeated Indianapolis Colts.
“We can beat that team, and I really hope we see them later on in the year,” said Carson Palmer, who threw for 335 yards and a pair of touchdowns. “There’s a good chance of that, and we’re playing for that opportunity.”
The postseason is unchartered territory for the Bengals, who have not had a winning season or been to the playoffs since claiming a wild-card berth in 1990. They know a win in this contest as well as the Dec. 4 road game against Pittsburgh and Dec. 11 home meeting versus Cleveland will go a long way toward ending that drought.
“We’ve got to have all three of them,” guard Bobbie Williams said Monday. “If we get these three right here, we pretty much settle our own destiny. These next three games are so big, but it starts with Baltimore. We’ve got to have it.”
The Ravens ended a four-game losing streak with a 16-13 overtime victory over the Steelers last Sunday. The offense again struggled, totaling just 241 yards, but coach Brian Billick was happy his team rediscovered the winning feeling.
“For that instant, didn’t it feel awfully (darn) good?” Billick asked. “That’s what the players can hold onto, that’s what the fans can hold onto, and as I told the players in the locker room, the very best thing about their lives right now, after last night, is (that) they get to come back on Wednesday and start the whole thing over again. We’ll see if we can go get another one.”
The Ravens’ offense has been terrible the last three games, accumulating only 28 points—21 on field goals—and 604 total yards. They’ve scored two touchdowns in their last five games and have a league-low eight for the season.
Baltimore is in danger of setting a league record for fewest touchdowns in a 16-game season, established by the Indianapolis Colts with 14 in 1991 and matched by the Seattle Seahawks in 1992.
Billick also has a growing dilemma at running back, where Chester Taylor is trying to unseat starter Jamal Lewis. Lewis, who has struggled all season after undergoing ankle surgery in February and serving prison time in the offseason, had 13 rushes for 28 yards Sunday while Taylor had 19 carries for 59 yards.
“We’ve got two good backs,” Billick said. “We’re going to need both backs through the rest of the year and we’ll use both backs in whatever combination we think is necessary to A, win the game, always, and B, to give them both a chance to hopefully get a rhythm.”
Taylor has 300 yards and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry while Lewis, who rushed for 2,066 yards in 2003, has 508 yards and a 3.0 average per carry.
“If he’s getting more carries or if he’s getting more time, it doesn’t bother me because I’ve proven what I can do,” Lewis said Wednesday. “The only thing that does is just keep me fresher and keep me going.”