Bengals’ biggest challenge comes from press box
Yep, it’s been a long time since the Bengals last won a football game in the NFL’s postseason. Not since Jan. 6, 1991, when Boomer Esiason & Co. beat the Houston Oilers 41-14 at Riverfront Stadium. The Bengals have lost five straight playoff games since then and haven’t scored more than 17 points in any of the games.
That’s been the storyline, the bottom line, of this season for them. Getting to the playoffs is nice and all of that but, can you win a game when it matters? Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have put up numbers galore their first three seasons but those two losses in Houston the last two Januarys hover over them. Marvin Lewis? Four times to the postseason. Four times one-and-done.
They’ll try again on Sunday. The San Diego Chargers come to Paul Brown Stadium for a 1:05 p.m. kickoff. It’s supposed to be cold and wet. The forecast on the Weather Channel’s web site calls for an 80 percent chance of snow during the day. San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers is having one of the best seasons of his career and the Chargers have some key players like linebackers Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram and offensive tackle King Dunlap back who weren’t available to them when the Bengals won in San Diego a month ago.
But those are not the biggest challenges facing the Bengals.
I can’t tell you if my presence in a stadium can be felt or if I just give off a negative aura of some sort — I swear I shower before going to games — but I must’ve done something awful to tick off the sports gods. I got into this career 15 years ago. I’ve never covered a winning postseason game. Not just by the Bengals but the Reds as well.
Fire Marvin? Fire Dusty? Forget that. Blame Goheen!
For some reason my bad karma doesn’t affect those teams below the ranks of the top professional leagues; I’ve been witness to UC and Xavier winning conference tournament and NCAA tournament hoop games. I wrote about the Bearcats beating Duke in the Belk Bowl last year. Miami’s hockey team won a postseason game with me around last year. I’ve chronicled numerous local high school teams and athletes bringing back hardware. I’ve even seen the celebrations and euphoria caused when the Cincinnati Commandos won consecutive minor league indoor football championships.
But the Reds and the Bengals? Nothing but Ls to report. Nine straight to be exact. I’ve covered all four of the Bengals’ losses in the Lewis era and I’ve seen the Reds go 0-for-5 in playoff games over the past four seasons against the Phillies, Giants and Pirates. Yes, the Reds won the first two games of their series against San Francisco in 2012 but those wins came on the West Coast while I was back here in Cincinnati. Once they returned to Great American Ball Park? Forget about it.
It’s got me wondering: Would the Bengals revoke my credentials for Sunday. What if somehow my name is conveniently be left off the check-in list at the gate or my seat in the press box is mysteriously given away?
"It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea," said offensive lineman Mike Pollak, who has played for Indianapolis and knows something about making the playoffs and everything that goes into winning or not winning in the postseason. "So if things go south on Sunday we can come looking for you?"
If they let me in the door, I’ll hold myself accountable. That’s what we as media ask of players and coaches, isn’t it? Accountability? I’m nothing if not accountable for my actions.
To Marvin’s credit, he’s not going to scapegoat me. At least not publicly.
"We’ve got to win — that’s all," said Lewis this week. "I thought we prepared very well a year ago. I thought we prepared very well the year before that. I’ve thought we’ve had good weeks of preparation and we’ve just got to go put it out there. We’ve just got to go play. We’re not going to get any of you (media heathen) to shut up about it until we win. That’s the way it is and I told them that this morning, flatly, okay? That’s the way it is. That’s the way it is."
But did you tell them about me? Seriously, are the Bengals good enough to overcome me?
"There’s no tricks about it," said defensive tackle Domata Peko. "We’ve just got to go out there and get this win. It’s not about statistics or we haven’t done. We’ve had three playoffs here in 25 years. We’re breaking records and doing stuff that people aren’t used to seeing around. We already talked about this as a team. It’s a big game. We know that getting that first game, getting over that hump, is big and I think this is the year we’re going to get over it.
"We know it’s not going to be easy. We’ve got to go out there and get it done. It’s just going out there and our will vs. their will and seeing who wins. The group of guys we’ve got here, we’ll be working our asses off from now until Sunday. Here’s where the game is won, Wednesday through Saturday."
So, Domata, I can hang you if Pollak comes looking for me?
Nah, nah, man. You’re good. This will be the year brother. We’re going to break that streak.
-- Domata Peko
"Nah, nah, man. You’re good," said Peko. "This will be the year brother. We’re going to break that streak."
Peko wasn’t the only one who wasn’t about to throw me under the bus. I couldn’t get A.J. Green, safety Reggie Nelson or wide receiver Brandon Tate to buy into the superstition.
"It’s a whole different year. You can’t go off the past," said Tate. "We’re going out there to try and change it around for ourselves, too, to get this first win. We’re just going to go out and compete and just try to get it done.
"It’s definitely not you. We’ve just got to stick to the plan. Good plays happen, bad plays happen. We’ve just got to stick to the course."
Said Nelson: "It still goes from practice to preparation on the field to taking it to the game."
And Green: "I don’t worry about that stuff. I just go out there and play."
I don’t know. There’s got to be some explanation and it can’t just be coincidence that I’ve been around for all nine of these games. Does Kimo von Oelhoffen tear up Carson Palmer’s knee two plays into the 2005 AFC Wild Card game against Pittsburgh if not for my being there? Does a 10-point lead in the second quarter evaporate? I mean, Jerome Bettis and Ben Roethlisberger aside.
Homer Bailey pitched too well in Game 3 in 2012 against San Francisco to lose if not for me. Buster Posey doesn’t hit a grand slam in Game 5 if not for my presence. Or maybe Jay Bruce connects with the sweet spot of the bat and one of those foul balls instead lands in the Moon Deck in the ninth inning to win the series? Francisco Liriano in Pittsburgh last October? Well, maybe his left arm and 21 years of Pirates futility were more of a factor than even me.
But if I’m not in Reliant Stadium the last two years, maybe Dalton wouldn’t have had to answer all of those questions he’s faced about getting that first playoff win. Maybe.
"Every little thing matters. That’s something you can see the last couple of years — when you have chances and you have opportunities to hit plays and to score points, you’ve got to hit them because every little thing counts," said Dalton. "You never know what’s going to be the play that defines the game. That’s something we didn’t do the last couple of years. We didn’t take advantage of some of those opportunities. Guys realize that, and you’ve got to take advantage of it."
I guess that means whether I’m in the press box or not.