CINCINNATI -- Mere minutes after jogging off Paul Brown Stadium's frigid field and back into the warm comforts of their locker room late Sunday afternoon, several Cincinnati Bengals crammed into a small space near an equipment room. Huddled close together in a corner, they watched the other early games, specifically those featuring a pair of division rivals and their unsuccessful attempts at holding on to late leads.
Compared with what many of the Bengals had to say after their 42-28 win over the playoff-bound, division-winning Indianapolis Colts, it was a bit of an awkward sight to see them pulling for another team for the sake of boosting their own postseason seeding and the probability of a first-round bye.
Seeing as how virtually every Bengal who was asked argued for "controlling what we can control," and ignoring all others in order to focus on themselves, it was a strange scene to digest.
"The key to that, though, still is just to handle our business," said defensive tackle Domata Peko, admittedly one of those who tiptoed from his nearby locker to watch the two tight finishes. "If we win out, we're in a good situation. If we just take it one game at a time like we have been, we should be fine."
So after witnessing the Pittsburgh Steelers, next Sunday night's opponent, lose a fourth-quarter lead at home against the Miami Dolphins, and even after watching the Cleveland Browns blow their own late-game lead against the New England Patriots, the Bengals remained confident in themselves.
Asked whether his team had what it took to go on a long postseason run, Bengals offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth quickly replied: "We have the potential to."
Peko isn't so sure that many outside Paul Brown Stadium believe that. Much of what he's watched or read from pundits in recent days goes against what he witnesses every day.
"A lot people haven't given us much respect," the defender said.
As hard as it may be to believe, these Bengals are different from the majority of those who share their ancestral football bloodline. The Bengals of old, for now, at least, are no more. The team that calls southwest Ohio home this year really is a good one. Defense has been its calling card, but solid special-teams play of late and a newfound offensive identity that hinges on true run-pass balance have the Bengals suddenly looking like an even more formidable bunch.
So why, then, were the Bengals doing a little postgame scoreboard-watching?
It was mainly so that they still have an idea of where some of the other teams around them in the AFC standings are, center Kyle Cook said. He knows that a team like the Patriots -- who retained their No. 2 seeding thanks to a narrow win over the Browns -- controls its fate, but a misstep here or there can help Cincinnati reach its goals.
"That No. 2 is going to to be big, and we know it," Cook said. "But you just got to put your mind to the grindstone. These last three weeks, this is what you've been preparing all offseason for, all camp. We want to be in this situation."
Two weeks ago, coming off their bye, the Bengals were adamant about going 5-0 in December to set up an end-of-season roll into the playoffs. So far, they're 2-0 in the month.
"That's why when we say we control our own destiny and if we win out, we'll be great," linebacker Vontaze Burfict said.
Yes, it may be difficult to digest, but the Bengals really are in this position. Unlike their last two playoff runs, though, a much greater postseason fate could be on the horizon. Does that fate include multiple postseason wins? A Super Bowl berth?
Stay glued to your TVs to find out.