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Monday, November 11, 2013
Morning Stripes: Day-after edition

By Coley Harvey

Before their game at Baltimore on Sunday afternoon, several Cincinnati Bengals conversed among themselves in the locker room about the importance of the AFC North showdown of which they were about to be part.

It wasn't just a regular middle-of-the-year contest. No, to them, there was a trophy on the line. As defensive tackle Domata Peko put it, this was like an "AFC North Championship Game."

Both teams were that desperate for a win.

The Ravens' desperation hinged on the fact they were 3-5 and had just lost their previous three. With their playoff hopes fading, they needed a win to boost confidence and to send a message to the rest of the division; they weren't done yet, and the Bengals and Browns shouldn't yet be crowned.

Cincinnati's desperation came from the fact that it had just lost to Miami in a game that snapped a four-game winning streak. Back in division play for just the third game of the season, the Bengals were hoping a win would extend an already large AFC North lead and would essentially serve as one of the final knockout blows to eventually winning the division.

Sunday's 20-17 overtime loss, however, put those plans on hold.

Now, the unofficial AFC North title game shifts to next weekend, when Cincinnati hosts Cleveland in the first of three remaining division rematches. If the Bengals aren't careful and start losing enough games that the Browns and Ravens -- and Steelers, for that matter -- climb completely back into the division race, then the season finale at home against Baltimore on Dec. 29 could serve as an actual championship tilt.

The Bengals, right now at least, don't really want that to happen. Plenty of time remains for them to avoid that. That's why, in this day-after edition of the Morning Stripes, it's probably best we all keep the proper context on the rest of the Bengals' season: