With the Cincinnati Bengals in control of their own fate as it concerns a postseason berth and an AFC North crown, Sunday night’s 30-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was a huge disappointment.
There is still optimism in the Bengals’ locker room once the weight of Sunday’s loss lifts itself from the team’s shoulders.
At least that’s how receiver Andrew Hawkins – a Johnstown native – sees things with the Bengals still on top of the division with two games to play.
Even Sunday’s loss left the Bengals 1 1⁄2 games up on the Ravens in the race for the division title. Baltimore faced Detroit on Monday in a game that did not finish in time for this edition of The Tribune-Democrat.
To reach the AFC playoffs, the Bengals (9-5) just need to handle their own business in upcoming home games against the Vikings and the Ravens.
While easier said than done, there is confidence with the Bengals.
“We have two games left, we have two home games at that,” Hawkins said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to bounce back and figure some things out, finish the season strong and get into the playoffs. That’s the gameplan. All of our goals are still intact, we just have to get back on the horse and keep going.”
Statistically, Hawkins’ night was rather pedestrian: A target on a first-quarter incompletion from Andy Dalton and a third-quarter tackle when Ziggy Hood recovered Jermaine Gresham’s fumble made up the bulk of his noted activity.
The Bishop McCort product also received a bit of a shove from Steelers receiver Antonio Brown when Hawkins was waiting to down a punt near the Steelers sideline.
Hawkins, who has seen limited action this season thanks to an ankle injury suffered in the preseason that landed him on the team’s short-term reserve/injured list, has seen time with the Bengals’ special-teams unit this season.
On Sunday, gaffes and breakdowns by the unit – though not Hawkins – helped Pittsburgh build a 21-0 lead in the first quarter on its way to the eventual 10-point win.
Just because the fingers couldn’t be pointed at Hawkins doesn’t mean that his pride was unaffected by the loss and the team’s miscues.
“It hurts right now, but you’d rather have it happen right now than at a more crucial time in the season,” Hawkins said. “You do the same thing you do every week. You go to the film, you correct it, you fix it and you go on from there. It’s the NFL, (the Steelers) are getting paid too. Those guys have pride and they’re not going to shut it down just because the Cincinnati Bengals are coming to town.
“We’re not going to hang our heads for the rest of the season just because we lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. We’re going to come back next week against the Minnesota Vikings and prepare to bounce back.”
The loss to the rival Steelers was an emotional blow, but it didn’t sour a chance for Hawkins to play in front of friends and family making the trip from Johnstown or watching the NBC prime-time broadcast.
“It’s always cool coming back to Pittsburgh,” Hawkins said. “You’ve got family and friends watching. Obviously we’d rather leave with a win, but this is the NFL. Hopefully I’ll be back a lot more times throughout my career. Hopefully I’ll come out with a couple more wins.”
Shawn Curtis is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/shawncurtis430.