There were some quiet, contemplative stares inside the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room around midnight Sunday into early Monday.
A few players did sit around a little longer than usual, seeming to contemplate what went right and what went wrong in their 30-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on a bitterly cold night.
As they took a little extra time getting out of uniform and giving a few more postgame interviews than normal, many Bengals were quick to point out how they realized that not much went right. But they also came to the conclusion that there wasn't as much wrong as perhaps those of us outside their core will be quick to suggest the next few days.
"I learned a long time ago, things are never as good as they seem and they're never as bad as they seem, either," Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson said.
To many of us not wearing stripes for a living, though, it certainly seemed the Bengals had a prime opportunity to take full control of their playoff lives by coming out and playing their typical smashmouth, aggressive and physical brand of football. Instead, they ended up getting bullied by a Steelers team that didn't have anywhere near as much to play for.
Thanks to a New England Patriots loss early in the day to the Miami Dolphins, there was a clear chance for Cincinnati to take the AFC's No. 2 playoff seed and control its postseason fate. If the Bengals were to win out the way they planned before the month of December even began, they would have now easily breezed to a first-round bye. They still can achieve that, but they'll need some help once again from other teams in order to make that happen.
But as doom-and-gloom as the Bengals' postseason alignment may now appear, the players are quick to caution that brighter days do indeed exist.
"We're not going to allow people to start talking like we're 5-9 again," offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said. "We're 9-5 and we've got an opportunity to do everything we set out for the season to do. That's the truth of it. It's just one game.
"For people outside and the media and everything else, seedings and all that, that's what they need to be concerned with. For us, it's another football game where we had a chance to win or lose and we lost it. You lost it and now you bounce back and put the team back together, and say it's one loss."
As you see, the Bengals are trying to move on. Here are a few Monday Morning Stripes that show a little more of that:
Johnson was somewhat of a chatterbox as he slipped on his postgame suit. You can read a little about how he plans to get the team turned around in this from Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson. Johnson makes clear what he and his teammates' plans the next few weeks are.
As you may have read on the ESPN NFL Nation Bengals blog, punter Kevin Huber broke his jaw in the first quarter of Sunday's game after taking a vicious hit from Pittsburgh special-teams player Terence Garvin. Huber's season likely is done. He wasn't the only Bengal to be run from the game. You can read about another big injury in this ESPN.com story.
Also from our Bengals blog, a rather big question as Cincinnati makes its postseason push: Are the Bengals really ready for prime time? They were definitely trending that way, but this latest loss gives room for rightful speculation to be raised about how they play when the lights are brightest. The Bengals themselves disagree, though.
Fox Sports Ohio's Kevin Goheen expressed similar concerns about this team that has such higher expectations than what it showcased. In prime time, they laid an egg, he said.
The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty has his own take on the rare egg laying. He correctly says games like this happen to every NFL team, and now it's time to see how the team responds. Like the rest of us who cover this team, he's convinced there certainly will be a response.