Sunday marks another kick at the can for the Cincinnati Bengals, most likely their final one.
They have been here before this season and have yet to break through.
The Bengals on Sunday are one win away from guaranteeing a wild-card spot as the sixth seed in the AFC.
All that stands between them and the post-season are the Baltimore Ravens and for the Bengals, that’ a pretty big problem.
Coming into the game the Bengals have put together a 9-6 season.
However, their season is about as phony as the 10-6 record posted last year by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Like the Bucs in 2010, the Bengals in 2011 have yet to beat anybody of quality. Their nine wins have come against Cleveland (twice), Buffalo, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Seattle, Tennessee, St. Louis and Arizona.
Their six losses have been against Denver, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Pittsburgh again and Houston. The loss to the Texans really hurt as it came on a last second TD toss by backup T.J. Yates, a 20-19 heartbreaker.
And that’s what the Bengals will experience on Sunday before their second sellout of the season — more heartbreak.
The Bengals have been competitive in most of their losses, save for the 35-7 thrashing administered by the Steelers in their second meeting.
Losing close ones has given the Bengals heart, given them belief that they are close, are knocking on the door and ready to walk through.
Just not on Sunday against the Bengals, who if they manage to lose could lose the AFC North crown to Pittsburgh and tumble into the wild-card ranks.
That just won’t happen.
In the first meeting between the teams, one that resulted in a 31-24 Ravens win, Cincinnati rookie quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked twice, was intercepted three times and couldn’t punch in the game-tying touchdown when he had a first-and-goal at the Ravens seven-yard line with one minute left in the game.
Dalton’s overall play this season has given the Bengals hope about their future, that better days are ahead. And there are, but not this Sunday.
Dalton has yet to elevate his game to the state where he can carry a team on his back. He’s not there yet and it’s hard to believe, even given how the Ravens have played so poorly on the road, that he will find the magic in his 16th game of the season.
“Turnovers usually decide the game, and I turned the ball over too many times,” Dalton said this week looking back at the previous loss to Baltimore. “I have to look back at how I’ve been playing and correct those things. It’s just being smarter with the football.”
To advance to the playoffs the Bengals need to win. They can’t count on backing in by having all the other contenders lose as well.
Throughout the season they have steadily proven one thing — they aren’t on the same level as the big boys.
There’s nothing to suggest they will make the climb Sunday.
If it’s any consolation for Dalton, he likely won’t be the only young quarterback to come up empty on Sunday.
In Denver, the Broncos are one victory away from locking up the AFC West division under the direction of Tim Tebow.
The Tebow saga has been a magical tune for most of the season but in their past two games, the tune has been decidedly flat.
Now we get to see if Tebow can rally himself from his worst performance as a pro — four interceptions last week against Buffalo — and lead his team over the Kansas City Chiefs.
As it turns out, the Chiefs feature a quarterback with all the motivation in the world, one with a giant chip on his shoulder.
Kyle Orton started the year as Denver’s quarterback, was replaced by Tebow and ultimately was released. He landed on the Chiefs roster via a waiver claim.
So the revenge factor plays out in a strong way here.
Which ever way it goes — Tebow or Orton — it will be a terrific story.
You would think that right about now, on the eve of the final day of the regular season, the Ryan boys would have learned to put a sock in it.
But that’s not their style.
So on Friday we got this from Rob Ryan, the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys who will play the New York Giants for the NFC East title Sunday night.
“They’re going down there to watch me become a champion again,” Ryan told the New York Daily News of his family members who arrived in New York for the big game. “That’s what they’re there for, all of them. Hell, it’s a costly endeavour, but I want them to be there when we win the East, and I’ll probably steal a couple T-shirts and make sure they get them. Because that’s what we’re there for.”
Rex and Rob, the arch enemies of silence, the two barons of bombast.
They just never learn.
Speaking of Rex Ryan, his Jets must beat the Miami Dolphins and then receive a lot of help from various quarters to advance as a wild card.
Their chances aren’t good.
One of the big problems the Jets have yet to overcome this season and one of the reasons why they are 8-7 and fighting for their lives is their lack of a big strike offence. They are not a big play team. Quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has taken a lot of heat for his mediocre play, has managed just two pass plays of more than 40 yards this season and neither of them went to a wide receiver.
“I think that has to be an area of concern,” Ryan said this week. “In the past, we’ve been able to hit some big plays in the passing game. We haven’t been able to do that this year like we’ve done in the past.
“I think that’s the big thing, offensively. It’s hard to drive the ball 15 plays to go down and score. It’s easier if you can get some chunk plays... That’s kind of been a thing — a common theme — that’s kind of missing from our offence this year.”
Don’t expect them to find it in Miami.