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CINCINNATI (AP) — Getting to the quarterback is always a priority in the playoffs. The Bengals have underlined it this week.
If Andrew Luck gets time to throw on Sunday, Cincinnati will likely head home one-and-done again.
The Bengals (10-5-1) managed only 20 sacks during the season, the fewest in the NFL. It's the second-fewest sacks the Bengals have managed during a 16-game season.
On Sunday night in Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger had plenty of time to find open receivers during a 27-17 Steelers win that gave them the AFC North title and relegated Cincinnati to a wild card berth.
The Bengals head to Indianapolis for a first-round game on Sunday that amounts to a rematch. The Bengals visited on Oct. 19 and got shut out for the first time in five years. Luck was sacked twice, but threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns in the Colts' 27-0 win.
Luck can't get that much time again.
"We have to play great — great — against the opposing quarterback as well," coach Marvin Lewis said.
The pass rush has been dreadful much of the season, which is a big surprise. Cincinnati finished third overall on defense last season and had 43 sacks. The Bengals lost end Michael Johnson — 3 1/2 sacks — but returned most of the defense intact. Paul Guenther replaced Mike Zimmer, who left as coordinator to become the head coach in Minnesota.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict has missed most of the season with concussions and a knee injury that required surgery. The line hasn't gotten pressure consistently, limiting Guenther's options.
Cincinnati's defense finished 22nd overall in yards allowed, 20th against both the run and the pass.
The Bengals will be trying to get to a quarterback who is hard to sack. The Colts allowed 29 sacks this season, the eighth-fewest in the league. During their game in October, Luck completed 27 of 42 passes without an interception.
Indianapolis piled up 506 yards, one of three times this season that the Bengals have allowed at least 500 yards in a game. The Colts led only 10-0 at halftime, and then pulled away against a defense that was on the field for nearly 40 minutes.
"Suppressing Andrew Luck is going to be kind of hard," safety Reggie Nelson said. "He always starts off kind of slow and the scary thing is, he can always get his team going. The key for us as a secondary is not giving up deep balls, and we've given up a couple of those the last couple of games."
Peyton Manning and Roethlisberger were able to complete long passes in the last two weeks, taking advantage of the lack of a pass rush.
"Obviously, if you get pressure on the quarterback, it helps," cornerback Terence Newman said. "But we have to be tight in coverage and defend their receivers. From the wide receiver standpoint to the tight ends to the backs, everybody in that (Colts) offense pretty much touches the ball."
The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season, a 23-year drought that ties for the sixth-longest in NFL history. They've been knocked out in the opening round each of the last three seasons.
In order to get the breakthrough, they'll have to get to Luck.
"He's a gunslinger — good, bad, or whatever," safety George Iloka said. "He's always capable of making big plays. We're going to have our hands full, as we know."
Notes: The club record for fewest sacks in a season is 16 in 1969, with a 14-game schedule. Cincinnati had only 17 in 2008. ... The Bengals will practice at the University of Cincinnati's covered field the rest of the week because of the cold. They practiced outside at Paul Brown Stadium last week, when a half-dozen players came down with the flu.
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