CINCINNATI -- One victory away from an unexpected playoff spot, the Cincinnati Bengals are already immersed in their biggest challenge of the week.
If the Bengals beat Baltimore, they can clinch the final AFC wild-card berth for a chance to win their first playoff game since the 1990 season. But will there be another small crowd?
Players buoyed by the chance to make the playoffs wasted no time lobbying for an audience.
"I just want to thank the fans who were out there today," defensive tackle Domata Peko said on Saturday. "We really felt you guys out there, and that helped us out big time. I really want to encourage all of the Cincinnati fans to come out and cheer us on as we try to make the playoffs."
There's a lot of bad history behind the fans' apparent distaste for the team.
The Bengals' stadium itself has also been an ongoing point of contention as the Cincinnati region struggles to recover from the recession. Hamilton County voters approved a sales tax hike in 1996, and the Bengals signed a 30-year lease that gives them a lot of control over the facility and much of its revenues. The stadium came in way over budget -- bad for taxpayers -- and cost roughly $450 million when it opened in 2000.
When the game ended Saturday, the Bengals flashed an offer on the scoreboard to try to drum up business for the final game. Season-ticket holders will be allowed to buy one ticket and get another free for Baltimore, a sign the game was nowhere near a sellout.
Then, the lobbying began, with even quarterback Andy Dalton, normally steadfastly reserved in his comments, deciding to stump for public support.
"Everyone in Cincinnati needs to come out for this big game," Dalton said.
Added cornerback Adam Jones: "We need all of you this week. We need the fans this week. Who Dey! Please come support us.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press