If the Cincinnati Bengals were a baseball team, chances are high that other reporters and I would have needed rain suits when we went through the locker room following Sunday's win over the Minnesota Vikings.
It has become commonplace in Major League Baseball, after all, for teams to celebrate playoff berths and division titles by uncorking a few shaken champagne bottles and dousing anyone nearby -- teammates, team owners, reporters -- with the bubbly liquid.
Sunday afternoon, though, right after the Bengals completely dismantled the Vikings 42-14 and subsequently earned their third consecutive postseason berth when the Miami Dolphins ended up losing to Buffalo minutes later, there was no need for rain suits or ponchos. There weren't any champagne bottles floating around. Large pieces of plastic weren't needed to cover up lockers. Heck, there wasn't even music blasting through the speakers.
Business operated as usual following the clinching. The Bengals weren't overly hyped up about the win. They were excited to know they officially were in the postseason, but they kept an even-keel temperament because they know something the rest of us are beginning to realize: there could be more to this team. With a little help from a few other NFL teams during next Sunday's regular-season finales, the Bengals will end up hosting one, or maybe even two AFC playoff games. As they have shown all season, the more games they can play at Paul Brown Stadium, the better their odds for reaching the Super Bowl.
Yes, they may have been playing the Vikings, a down-on-its-luck team that looked like it eventually started to quit Sunday on a coach who likely will be getting fired at this point, but the Bengals were dominant and unrelenting. Inside the place they fondly call "The Jungle," they bullied this latest opponent, just like they had the six that came before it. That group included the likes of the Green Bay Packers and the current No. 2 seed New England Patriots.
As the reality of the Bengals' return to the playoffs sinks in, take a look at a few of this Monday's Morning Stripes to see how the Bengals got to this point:
We kick off the Stripes by making a plug for the ESPN.com Bengals blog. In case you haven't already, spend some time scrolling down our Bengals page to check out our postgame coverage. Stories include items on the intimidating "Jungle" environment that Cincinnati's defense has created, the boost quarterback Andy Dalton's day provided the rest of the Bengals' offense and the focus the Bengals are trying to maintain despite winning the AFC North for a third time.
Speaking of the intimidation factor that Paul Brown Stadium has, here's a story from Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson on how the place can be a horrific place for opposing offenses. On Sunday, the Vikings were held to an 0-for-9 showing on third down by Cincinnati's defense. The other six teams that came to Cincinnati this season had similar issues.
One of the biggest keys to the Bengals' third-down success was the fact that they completely quieted potential future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson. He rushed for only 45 yards in the Vikings' loss. All week, the Bengals talked about stopping him and making that their No. 1 priority. Here's the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. on the Bengals' stinginess with Peterson.
Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty writes here about how the Bengals proved the "any given Sunday" mantra of the NFL by showing up and completely dismantling an opponent a week after getting so far down that they couldn't really surface inside Heinz Field. Daugherty makes an appeal to the Bengals' naysayers, saying they can relax now.
Finally, we turn to the Baltimore Sun, which has this short item on this weekend's Bengals-Ravens game. Had Baltimore won Sunday -- the loss gave the Bengals the division -- there was a chance the finale would get flexed out to 8 p.m. The NFL said that won't happen. Kickoff remains 1 p.m.