CINCINNATI -- Asked about the significance of opening the playoffs against an opponent his team beat a month ago, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis didn't even wait for the question to end.
"What went on the last time doesn't matter for a hill of beans," Lewis said. "Every time you face somebody, it's a new game."
The San Diego Chargers certainly hope that's the case when they visit Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday for an AFC wild-card playoff game.
The Bengals went to San Diego on Dec. 1 and won, 17-10, for one of only three road wins this season, and they did it in physical fashion by rushing for 164 yards, a good chunk of which came late in the game when the Chargers knew what to expect and still couldn't stop it.
"If anything, that could be against us," said offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth, whose switch from left tackle to left guard occurred early in that game when Clint Boling suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter.
"The way we did it, they're going to make sure they come in and stop that," Whitworth added. "The last couple games they played after that game, they did really well against the run. If anything, you could tell it put something on them to where they made it an emphasis."
San Diego linebacker Melvin Ingram made his season debut the week after the loss to the Bengals, the same time linebacker Jarret Johnson returned to the lineup.
With those two back, the Chargers have allowed an average of just 78 rushing yards over their final four games, all of which were victories.
"From a scheme standpoint, it doesn't seem like there's a whole lot different that they're doing," said Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who was 14 of 23 for 190 yards with one touchdown and one interception in that December meeting. "They've just got some guys that are playing really well. They've got some guys back that were hurt when we played them the first time."
San Diego entered the first game against Cincinnati having lost three of their previous four, and the loss to the Bengals dropped them to 5-7.
But after reeling off four consecutive victories and getting some help along the way to sneak into the postseason as the No. 6 seed, it will be a much more confident Chargers team on the field Sunday afternoon.
"We've been in playoff mode now for a month," San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. "It's been win to stay alive for the last four weeks now, especially the last two."
Something working in the Bengals' favor is that the last two seasons have seen 12 playoff games that were rematches from the regular season, and eight times the team that won the previous meeting also prevailed in the playoffs.
"I don't know if there's really an advantage," said Bengals cornerback Terence Newman, who has missed the last three games but is hopeful of returning Sunday. "When you beat a team before, they understand that 'hey, we owe them.' They got hot going into the postseason, so it's going to be a tough team and everybody's going to have to come ready to play."
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