In January, the Cincinnati Bengals were oh-so-close to winning their first playoff game in a quarter of a century. Instead, Vontaze Burfict was flagged for a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit on Antonio Brown that left the star wide receiver concussed. The Steelers marched down the field, won the game and Burfict was suspended for the first three games of the regular season, including this Sunday’s tilt at Heinz Field.
If past is prologue, there’s no telling what might this weekend in Pittsburgh.
“It’s a heated rivalry,” Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “In all the divisions, there’s always that one team that’s always the heated rival because we’re both so good. But the biggest thing we got to do is we got to keep our poise. We can’t get caught up in what we did in the Wild Card game last year. That cost us the game. This year, we’re more mature. If we keep our poise, I think we’ll be fine.”
Emotion, of course, is a big part of football, but the best teams know how to harness it. In January, the Bengals did not.
Green believes that has changed.
“Coach Lewis doesn’t have to preach that stuff to us,” he said. “We’re an older group and we know what we have to do to get the job done. Last year was unfortunate, but right now we’re just looking at this game as just staying poised and playing our game.”
The Bengals (1-0), who beat the Jets in East Rutherford on Sunday, have made the playoffs in six of the last seven years but haven’t won a playoff game since 1990. Marvin Lewis is a good head coach and Andy Dalton is a good quarterback, but they don’t often get the respect they deserve.
“It’s always tough,” Green said. “We put up a lot of wins these last couple years, but we (haven’t won in the playoffs). But it’s fine. We like being underrated or keeping everything in a small circle in that locker room. We’re fine with that.”
Green did say, though, that this year feels “different.” The Bengals know they have to get over the playoff hump, and they believe they have the personnel to do it.
“We don’t really look outside the locker room, what’s going on outside the locker room,” Green said. “We just try to control what we can control and that’s winning. Sometimes it doesn’t work out like that, but at the end of the day, we’re out there fighting. We give it everything we got.”
They’ll need to give it everything they have this Sunday. Pittsburgh was just about flawless in its season-opener Monday night, dismantling the Redskins, 38-16.
“We’re ready for whatever,” said Green, who had 12 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown against the Jets. “I feel like that’s what makes our team so great. If we have to throw the ball 50 times and win, that’s fine. If we have to run the ball 50 times and win, we’re fine with it. We know what type of game it’s going to be on Sunday. It’s going to be a black-and-blue game, a grind-it-out (game). I think we’ll be prepared.”
Green, 28, was also asked about Colin Kaepernick and the recent national-anthem protests around the league. Every Bengal stood for the anthem on Sunday, which was the 15th anniversary of 9/11.
Green was asked if any of his teammates had talked about sitting or kneeling.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Not to my knowledge. But one thing about living in America, you have the freedom of speech and the right to do anything you want. That makes this country so great. With these guys, they’re doing what they want to do. It’s fine, I guess. To each his own. It’s whatever they want to do. That’s what’s so great about living in America.”
Green said he has “been around (Kaepernick) a couple times” but doesn’t know him very well.
“I think for us, we haven’t talked about it as much,” Green said of his teammates. “I think we just keep everything in house. It’s a free country. You can do as you please. It’s what makes America so great. He’s very passionate about the subject, so you know he has great knowledge about this and he’s free to do whatever he wants.”