The question caught T.J. Houshmandzadeh off-guard. He thought about it for a second, then gave up and moved on.
“I couldn’t answer that because I’ve never been in the playoffs,” the Cincinnati Bengals receiver said.
When it comes to the postseason, the Bengals don’t know what to say.
The Bengals (11-4) have barely gotten comfortable with their title of AFC North champions, one they clinched two weeks ago. Now, they have to start getting ready to play high-stakes games in January, the ones they’re used to watching from home.
The playoffs are very foreign turf for the Bengals. They have little experience to draw from; only a dozen of them were on a playoff team before they came to Cincinnati, which hasn’t made the postseason since 1990.
So even a simple question -- would it be bad to head into the postseason on a two-game losing streak, for example -- brings a truthful shrug.
They just don’t know.
“Who says going into the playoffs on a one-game winning streak is that much better than a two-game losing streak?” Houshmandzadeh said, thinking it through aloud. “I don’t know because I’ve never been in that position. I don’t know how adversely it affects you.
“We’ll find out here soon enough.”
Their postseason education begins next week, when they host a first-round game against either Jacksonville, Pittsburgh or Kansas City. The Steelers can clinch the final AFC wild card by beating Detroit at home today.
The Bengals finish their regular season today in Kansas City, a game that means little in terms of seeding. Then, they get to learn firsthand why first-time playoff teams are prone to get that wide-eyed look.
Think there was a lot of pressure in breaking their 14-year non-winning streak? The real pressure is just starting.
“When you get to the playoffs, you know you’re the only game going on and you know everybody is watching and you know the ramifications,” said backup quarterback Jon Kitna, one of those with postseason experience. “You have to maintain an even keel. You can be down 10 or up 10, you can’t let that affect you.”
Kitna’s only playoff experience came as the starter for the Seattle Seahawks in their 20-17 first-round loss to Miami in 1999.
“I know it was short-lived,” he said. “We were winning that game and had a chance to really finish the game with about 5 minutes left. It was third-and-17 and we’re playing at home and it was crazy and [Dan] Marino completed a pass for about 20 yards. The playoff game was so much higher in intensity. A play like that kind of deflates you.”
His memory is painfully accurate. Marino completed a 23-yard pass on third-and-17 to Tony Martin during an 85-yard drive to the winning touchdown with 4:48 left.
At least he can remember a playoff game. Bengals fans already are starting to get nervous about the long-awaited return. Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson heard fans in a restaurant this week talking about how they fear playing Pittsburgh in the first round.
If the Bengals and Steelers both win their games this weekend, they would meet for the third time this season, this time with everything on the line. They’ve split their two games, with the visitors winning both times.
“I want everybody to be happy,” Anderson said. “It took 15 years to get to this. We slaved, we worked, we cried, we bled. Our fans have to have that mentality of, ‘Hey, bring on whoever we’ve got, we’re finally here, we deserve to be here.’ ”
Even if they’re not quite sure what it entails.