CINCINNATI – The Browns and Bengals were playing for first place late in the 1986 season. Bernie Kosar set the tone on the first play, throwing a long completion to Reggie Langhorne at Riverfront Stadium.
Marty Schottenheimer's team pulled away to a 34-3 victory that day. Sam Wyche's Bengals couldn't get anything going — not even with Boomer Esiason throwing to Cris Collinsworth — as the Browns dominated.
Why the history lesson?
That's the last time Ohio's two NFL teams played with first place at stake so late in a season.
The Bengals (5-2-1) are alone atop the AFC North, with everyone else right behind. The Browns (5-3) could move into a first-place tie with Pittsburgh (6-3) and show they're ready to be taken seriously as a contender Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium.
A victory would give the Browns a three-game winning streak, their best start since 1994, and a lot of credibility as an up-and-coming team.
"It'll certainly be a good measuring stick because Cincinnati this year has been probably the best team in the AFC North," left tackle Joe Thomas said. "If we want to win the AFC North, we're going to have to beat Cincinnati, and this is our first opportunity."
What about stage fright?
"If you're at this point in your career, you've played on multiple national-stage games," quarterback Brian Hoyer said. "Guys have been in Super Bowls, playoff games. This isn't like the high school team playing on the weekly Friday night game on TV."
The Bengals are trying to gain respect, too. The defending division champions have developed a reputation for playing well most of the time but falling apart in the biggest games. They've reached the playoffs each of the last three seasons and gone 0-3 in the postseason.
They had their first chance to make an impression during a Sunday night game in New England on Oct. 5 and got drubbed 43-17.
They get a chance to make a second impression Thursday night, this time at home.
"You love to have that type of atmosphere, especially at here at home in front of the whole nation," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "It gives us an opportunity to bounce back from our slip-up we had against the Patriots. It's another prime-time game, and we'll be ready to go."
Things to watch at Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday night:
STILL EMOTIONAL: Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still will have his 4-year-old daughter, Leah, watching him play for the first time. The girl is fighting cancer, but was well enough to fly from Philadelphia. The Bengals raised money for pediatric cancer research by donating money from his jersey sales to Children's Hospital in Cincinnati. They'll present a check for more than $1 million on the field, with Leah participating in an emotional moment.
"The crowd will go crazy," Still said. "They've been supporting her this whole time with her being all the way in Philadelphia, and I know with her being in Cincinnati and them having a chance to see her, it's going to get the crowd kind of hyped up."
BENGALS BAD AT NIGHT, BROWNS BAD ON ROAD: Both teams are working against their history in this one. The Bengals are playing in prime time for the second time this season. That lopsided loss in New England left them 18-40 in prime time. The Browns haven't won an AFC North game on the road since Sept. 28, 2008, dropping their last 17 away from home against division rivals.
GREEN VS. HADEN: The game reprises one of the best cornerback vs. receiver matchups in the NFL, Joe Haden against A.J. Green. The receiver managed only nine catches for 58 yards total in the two games last season. Green missed three games with an injured big right toe, but returned last Sunday and caught three passes for 44 yards and a touchdown during a 33-23 win over Jacksonville. The Bengals are hoping to increase his time on the field Thursday.
LITTLE VS. BROWNS: Receiver Greg Little tore into the Browns during the week for releasing him last May after three inconsistent seasons. The Bengals signed him to shore up their depleted group of receivers, and he's caught four passes for 55 yards in three games. Little is eager to have a big game and show up his former team.
BROWNS ON THE RUN: Cleveland's running game hasn't gone anywhere lately. In the past three, the Browns have managed only 69, 39 and 50 yards while averaging 1.9 yards per carry. The Bengals are known for pressuring quarterbacks, so it'll be up to Cleveland's running game to keep them honest and keep Hoyer off the ground.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
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