The Bengals’ playoff chances were extinguished with a fitting meltdown.
A 24-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday took care of the defending division champions. Cincinnati (5-8-1) had its club-record streak of five playoff seasons snapped.
They lost in the first round each season, and still haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest stretch of futility in NFL history.
“We’re so used to the past five years of going to the playoffs every year,” defensive tackle Domata Peko said. “It’s the first time we haven’t in a long time, and it hurts.”
How they faded hurt the most.
The Bengals matched the club record with 12 wins last season, only to lose at home to Pittsburgh in the opening round of the playoffs.
Jeremy Hill’s fumble and penalties on Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones moved the Steelers in range for the winning field goal in the final seconds, one of the biggest meltdowns in playoff history.
They melted down again in the second half on Sunday.
After scoring on their first four possessions for a 20-9 halftime lead, they managed only 38 yards in the second half. They had more penalties (seven) than first downs (four).
Chris Boswell tied the club record with six field goals for Pittsburgh’s first 15 points, and the Bengals drew penalties on four consecutive plays — including Pat Sims’ personal foul — that set up Ben Roethlisberger’s decisive touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
Burfict and Jones got flagged again during the game — the linebacker for tackling Roethlisberger after he got rid of the ball, and the cornerback for taunting. The Bengals were left fuming.
“They let Pittsburgh do whatever they wanted to,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “They should’ve been calling stuff on them, too.”
The Bengals were good at finishing off games last season, until they met Pittsburgh in the playoffs. They’ve been unable to do it this season, preventing them from reaching the playoffs.
“We just haven’t been able to find the finishing touches,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “We just haven’t found what it takes there at the end.”