Youth in spotlight for Chargers-Bengals game

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 4, 2014 at 12:09 pm •  Published: January 4, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) — The crowd, the intensity, the feeling that everything was riding on every play. Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict was overwhelmed by all of it at the start of his first NFL playoff game.

The Bengals lost in Houston 19-13 last season, when Burfict was a rookie and Cincinnati didn't do a very good job of handling the high-stakes atmosphere.

"There's a different speed to the game," Burfict said. "It was kind of shocking to me being in the playoffs my first year. Man, everything was going fast for me. I had to adapt to it. The first time I went out there on the field in the playoffs, I thought, 'Man, is everybody going faster, or am I just moving slow?'

"I understand that now. We've got a lot of guys who understand how the playoffs work and hopefully that will get us ready for Sunday."

The Bengals (11-5) and the San Diego Chargers (9-7) will have a lot of young players in the playoff spotlight at Paul Brown Stadium.

Rookie running back Giovani Bernard gave the Bengals a new dimension, piling up 1,209 yards on runs and catches, the second-most by a rookie in team history. Rookie tight end Tyler Eifert was sixth on the team in receiving with 39 catches for 445 yards. Burfict, a second-year player, led the team in tackles. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who missed most of his rookie season in 2012 because of injury, moved into a starting role late in the season because of injuries.

Kirkpatrick had a pair of interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, during a 34-17 win over the Ravens last Sunday.

"It was a big game," said Kirkpatrick, who has been burned in coverage several times this season. "I really needed it. I haven't made plays like that in so long. It was a burden off my back."

Receiver Marvin Jones, a fifth-round pick from California in 2012, missed time during his rookie season because of a knee injury and developed into Cincinnati's No. 2 receiver this year, complementing A.J. Green. Green finished with 11 touchdown catches and Jones had 10, giving the Bengals their first pair of receivers with double-digit TD receptions.

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