With Steelers looming, Bengals believe it's time for a playoff 'exorcism'

CINCINNATI -- During the middle of his postgame news conference Sunday afternoon, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was peppered with a round of questions that tested his understanding of his team's playoff scenarios, as they existed at that moment.

The Bengals had just won. The Steelers had too, and the Jets lost. The late-afternoon games -- namely those in Denver and Kansas City -- were just kicking off. A lot of wheels were in motion, and in some form or fashion, they all had an impact on the Bengals when the day began. So, did Lewis want to know what had to happen outside of Paul Brown Stadium in order to most directly affect the Bengals' playoff fate?

"Sure," he said.

When it was explained what had just happened around the league, Lewis paused for a moment before saying, "We play Pittsburgh?"

Yes. At 8:15 p.m. ET Saturday.

At the time Lewis was talking, the possibility of a first-round bye existed, but once Denver held on to beat San Diego three hours later, this week became a work week.

So, Coach: What do you think about playing a division rival for a third time this season?

"Well, we've been there before," Lewis said. "It's time to right the ship. You know, exorcism."

Yeah, you know, exorcism; as in what the Bengals believe they must do to rid themselves of a playoff victory drought that dates all the way back to the 1990 season. Exorcism, as in what the Bengals must do to a stadium that has witnessed 14 losses in a 17-game span to the Steelers since it opened in 2000. Exorcism, as in what the Bengals must do with the off-field circumstances tied to their most recent past with the Steelers.

"I'm not going to get all into s--- that we got into last time about that game, but I know we'll be ready, mentally and physically," Bengals cornerback Adam Jones said. "We've talked as a group about that game. So we'll see how that goes."

The last time the Bengals played the Steelers -- a month ago in Cincinnati -- they lost when quarterback Andy Dalton was forced from the game in the first quarter because of a thumb injury. He hasn't returned. It was a physical, chippy contest that featured hard hits, after-the-whistle extracurricular activity and a pregame scuffle at midfield. To say these two teams dislike each other is an understatement. But this week, like Jones, very few Bengals will admit to feeling that way.

Some of the last meeting's most heated play featured retaliatory pushes and shoves that earned personal-foul penalties. Six of the game's nine infractions were for unsportsmanlike behavior or unnecessary roughness. Most of them were levied to Steelers players. Some of the edgy play stemmed from a series of tweets sent by players on both teams after a similarly brusque game in Pittsburgh on Nov. 1. Before and immediately after the last game, the Bengals weren't shy about showing their emotion about what they thought were threatening messages directed to linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

They aren't doing that now.

"It's simple: You're in the playoffs to win and have a chance at the Super Bowl," Andrew Whitworth said. "That'll be the only focus and the only thing we care about."

Added linebacker Vincent Rey: "All that matters is if we win. All that other stuff, that side stuff, it's finished."