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Morning Stripes: Bengals remain in hunt

Around the same time the Cincinnati Bengals were thawing out from a 42-28 win over the Indianapolis Colts and getting settled back in their locker room, the New England Patriots were slipping past the Browns thanks to a missed, long, game-winning Cleveland field goal attempt.

New England's No. 2 playoff seeding was safe, for at least another week.

Still, with their own victory, the Bengals remained right in the mix for that seeding and jumped from the No. 4 postseason position to the third. Indianapolis had previously held onto to that third seeding, but despite clinching the AFC South crown late in the day thanks to a Tennessee loss, the Colts still dropped down to fourth because of their own defeat. The Bengals now have a tiebreaker over them in the event one becomes necessary across the final three weeks of the season.

All of that simply means that Cincinnati remains in the postseason hunt. And, as long as the Bengals keep winning, their odds at least earning home-field advantage remain favorable.

After already starting the month of December with two wins, the Bengals are unwavering in their belief that they can take the next three, too (they visit the Steelers on Sunday night, then host the Vikings and Ravens to close out the regular season).

"That's why our goal is to win out," linebacker Vontaze Burfict said. "That's why when we say we control our own destiny and if we win out, we'll be great. Just control what you've got to control and control what your teammates can control."

How exactly did the Bengals remain in the postseason hunt Sunday? What led to the complete dismantling of the Colts? A perfectly balanced offense (they ran 35 times and passed 35 times), an accurate passing quarterback, clean offensive line protection, a running back's near-100-yard rushing performance, positive field position sparked by special-teams play and once again another stout defensive effort, even when two key players went down with injuries.

As we get the Monday Morning Stripes going, we start with the aforementioned running back:

  • The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Daugherty made rookie Giovani Bernard the subject of his postgame column, writing about the magician-like flair and finesse the ball carrier possesses on his runs. Apparently a couple of Colts defenders were surprised when they saw it all first hand, informing Bernard after one play that he was "a shifty dude." That shiftiness was showcased in a 99-yard rushing performance, and came on his four catches for 49 yards in the passing game. Daugherty calls Bernard the X factor to the Bengals' offense. If Cincinnati can keep getting him to make plays, it can be unbeatable in January, he says.

  • Here's a little more on the Bengals' run game from the Columbus Dispatch's Todd Jones. He writes about the overall balance the running game had with BenJarvus Green-Ellis' short touchdown runs and power pickups, and Bernard's yard-eating chances in wide-open space. Changes on the offensive line appear to have helped a lot of that in recent weeks, starting with left tackle Andrew Whitworth's move inside to guard.

  • Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson has this broader look at Cincinnati's offense and how well it seemed to operate Sunday. The pass and run seemed to be working well off one another, and quarterback Andy Dalton was a big reason why. Along with Bernard's strong day, Dalton had one of his best outings of the season.