The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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January 4, 2014

Hawkins, Bengals gearing up for AFC wild-card game

Johnstown’s Andrew Hawkins has been to the NFL playoffs in each of his three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.

That’s quite a feat considering that the Bengals’ postseason history, or lack thereof.

But don’t expect Hawkins to take for granted today’s AFC wild-card game between the North Division champion Bengals and San Diego Chargers.

“This isn’t enough,” said Hawkins, a Bishop McCort High School graduate, during a telephone interview earlier this week. “First thing, we have to win this football game or this season isn’t a success to us. The guys are focused and we hope it translates (today).”

The 11-5 Bengals were perfect in eight games at Paul Brown Stadium this season. That bodes well for a team seeking its first playoff victory since the 1990 postseason.

“It’s very important to play at home,” said Hawkins, a receiver who worked his way back into the lineup after suffering an ankle injury during training camp. “There are certain stadiums you play in throughout the year that you know are tough. Seattle, Houston, Pittsburgh. This year we’ve been able to bring that sense into our stadium.”

Growing up a Bengal

Even though Hawkins is a third-year Bengal, his ties to the team date back much longer. Andrew grew up cheering for his older brother Artrell Hawkins Jr., a Bengals second-round draft pick in 1998 who played cornerback in Cincinnati during six of his nine NFL seasons.

“Andrew is not like most players. Andrew is very mature for his age,” Artrell Hawkins said of his brother. “He’s no longer a spring chicken but to give the proper perspective, Andrew has been in the league and the Bengals organization for 16 years.

“He was a Bengals fan. He lived my experience. He followed them.

“Unlike most players, he understands the gravity and the implications and how important a playoff win is to the Bengals and the city.”

The Bengals’ postseason history includes a 5-11 record. Cincinnati reached the Super Bowl twice, losing to the Joe Montana-led San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XVI (26-21) and XXIII (20-16).

Cincinnati missed the playoffs from the 1991 season through 2004.

The Bengals since have advanced to the playoffs in 2005, 2009, 2011, 2012 and this season but still haven’t won in the postseason since a 41-14 wildcard win over the Houston Oilers on Jan. 6, 1991.

“Growing up a Bengals fan with Artrell playing here, I remember rooting for some of those teams that weren’t very good,” Andrew Hawkins said. “It’s a blessing to be a part of a team people are calling the glory years.

“We haven’t had a playoff win since 1990. We’ve been here three years in a row. The core guys who have been here for three years, for us to go home with a loss would be a devastating end to the season. Everybody is focusing on a win. Hopefully we can get it done and keep broadening the roles from there.”

Path to the playoffs

The Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens 34-17 in the regular-season finale, knocking out the defending Super Bowl champions from playoff contention. The Chargers won a controversial game against a Kansas City Chiefs team resting 20 of 22 starters last Sunday night. A missed Chiefs field goal in the closing seconds of regulation and a couple questionable officiating calls led to 9-7 San Diego’s overtime win, which simultaneously eliminated the Pittsburgh Steelers from wild-card contention.

“We’re excited about the opportunity,” Andrew Hawkins said. “Any time you get to the playoffs it’s a blessing. There are 32 teams and 20 go home after the last game.”

Andrew Hawkins has played in eight games this season since returning from the injury, collecting 12 receptions for 199 yards. He had three catches for 74 yards in the win over Baltimore, and has six catches for 111 yards in the past two games.

Artrell Hawkins said his younger brother brings intangibles that speak more than statistics.

“When the game is on the line, everyone in the stadium knows where the ball is going. With the Steelers Antonio Brown is getting the ball,” Artrell Hawkins explained. “Andrew doesn’t have a profile like that. The Bengals have several players like that, with A.J. Green and Marvin Jones each being one of them.

“When Andrew performs, he doesn’t play perfect, but ultimately, the play that he makes based on the opportunity he gets, the average is really high,” Artrell added. “Andrew makes a lot of great plays. Those big moments don’t scare him because Andrew has been here for such a long time. Really, he’s been here 16 years.”

The Hawkins family and friends have followed the Bengals just as long.

This will be their first opportunity to watch a playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium. In each of the past two seasons, the Bengals traveled to Houston and lost to the Texans in the first round of the postseason.

“This is the first playoff game they’ll get to see me in,” Andrew said. “Last year we played in Houston and that made it a little harder to get to.

“A lot of years our family has been rooting for the Bengals. It’s cool they finally get to come see us in the playoffs.”

Hometown presence

Artrell Hawkins is a part of the Bengals Radio Network and does work for an NBC affiliate in Cincinnati.

Artrell is grateful that the Hawkins family and several close friends from the Johnstown area will attend today’s game.

“It’s important because they’ve been involved with the Bengals long enough that they’ve seen the good, the bad, the very bad, the ugly, the not-so-bad,” Artrell Hawkins said. “Now we’re at potentially great. It’s full circle since 1998 when I was drafted.”

Artrell Hawkins is happy to see his brother have postseason opportunities that eluded him during his time in Cincinnati.

“What I didn’t get accomplished as a player doesn’t bother me now. It bothered me as a player, but I let it go,” Artrell Hawkins said. “Now we have a clear picture.

“When I got to New England I finally understood what you need to do to win and how you win.”

Artrell Hawkins finished his NFL career on two New England Patriots playoff teams and appeared in five postseason games in 2005 and 2006.

“That’s not a knock on the Bengals or Carolina Panthers. It’s the Patriots way,” Artrell Hawkins said. “There is no I. It’s about the team. You want your team to win.

“Andrew is that type of guy. He’s been in a lot of places. His experience in addition to having access to NFL players and stadiums coming up, this is his life. In those big moments, those moments don’t overwhelm him. He’s been there before.”

Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.

 

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