A.J. Hawk brings a unique perspective to the locker room as he and the Cincinnati Bengals prepare for their wild-card playoff game Saturday night against Pittsburgh.
The Kettering native and Centerville High School grad has more playoff experience than anyone else on the roster, having appeared in 13 postseason contests in nine years with Green Bay before signing with the Bengals in the offseason.
The 10th-year linebacker also among the few players to have been part of at least one playoff win (he has won seven) – and the only one with a Super Bowl ring.
Hawk, who celebrated his 32nd birthday on Wednesday, looks to help the Bengals earn their first playoff victory in a quarter century Saturday in a rubber match with the Steelers. He has played in all 16 games this season, starting 11 of them, and collected 16 tackles.
The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Ohio State graduate talked about his NFL playoff experience, his initial thoughts on the Bengals when he signed and playing the Steelers for a third time in this week’s Bengals High 5:
Q: You’ve won more playoff games than anyone else in this room. Is there anything you think you bring that can help the Bengals get over the hump in the postseason?
A: I don’t sit there and try to give guys advice or anything like that, but I think the biggest thing I’ve seen when people have issues with big games is people try to build it up too much. For us, I think it’s another game. We need to approach it that way, and approach it like we’ve had this season. We’ve had success, going 12-4, because we’ve played well, so I think we need to keep that in perspective. When you try to hold on too tight and when mistakes start to arise a little bit, I think when teams hold that too high, sometimes they lose their edge or do things they normally wouldn’t have done throughout the regular season, so for us, it’s just keep going business as usual and keep playing well.
Q: From your own playoff experience, how much does it ramp things up going into the postseason after a one-and-done?
A: The season comes to a grinding halt fast when you lose in the playoffs. It’s a tough thing to handle. I’ve lost a few NFC championship games, and you let your mind wander a little bit and people want to think about the following week and going to the Super Bowl, and all of a sudden, bam, it’s over, you’re going home and you’re watching the game like everyone else. I think for us, we have a good time. We really enjoy playing. We want to continue this thing for sure.
Q: The Bengals haven’t won 12 games since the 1988 Super Bowl season. Did you imagine this when you signed?
A: I did. Of course. If you talked to me back in April, one of the things I noticed early on was how much talent runs through this locker room. Everywhere you look, there are great players and great guys as well. I kind of saw that chemistry the team had when I first got here, and it’s grown over the whole season for us. I don’t think anyone in this locker room is surprised where we’re at. We would have liked to have won a few of those games we lost, obviously, and been in even a better position, but this is where we are and I think the positives we have from the season, we need to take those into the playoffs.
Q: Is it weird to be playing a team three times like this?
A: It is a little bit weird. I think it adds an atmosphere to this game and what we’re doing for sure. It’s a big rivalry and we’re excited.
Q: Was there anything like this in Green Bay?
A: The Packers-Bears is a big rivalry, and we played them in the NFC Championship the year we won the Super Bowl (in 2010). I’m not sure what our record was against them, but it felt like we got the best of them most of the time. This one, the Steelers are a great team. There’s a reason Ben (Roethlisberger) his two rings because he’s an unbelievable player and they have a ton of talent around him. Every game and every rivalry is it’s own little situation. You can’t really compare them, but this is one of the biggest and obviously Saturday night is going to be one of the biggest games.