Another postseason, another quick exit for Bengals

INDIANAPOLIS — All of the questions the Bengals hate hearing but have been forced to listen to and answer won’t be going away for another year.

Another regular season worthy of a playoff berth has ended right there, this time at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts, 26-10. It was a methodical loss. It was a game the Bengals were in at halftime, down just 13-10, but just as it has been the case in five previous playoff losses they had nothing in the second half. The Colts outscored them 13-0 after halftime. It could’ve been worse but it didn’t need to be.

The disappointment is all the same.

Six times in Marvin Lewis’ 12 seasons with the Bengals he’s led them to the playoffs. Six times they’ve lost their first game. It’s happened four years in a row now.

"It’s tough to get to the playoffs. I think a lot of people don’t understand that, but it’s not about one playoff game," said quarterback Andy Dalton. "If you don’t win all of the playoff games and win the Super Bowl, then you’re going to be sitting in the same spot that we are now. Our goal here is not about one football game. It’s far beyond that."

The Bengals are the first team in the Super Bowl era to lose their opening playoff game four years in a row.

As opposed to last year’s loss at home to San Diego, you could see this defeat coming given who the Bengals didn’t have and who the Colts had — namely quarterback Andrew Luck. But the instantaneous ending of the season is still harsh. What started in April when offseason workouts began was snuffed out in three hours and six minutes Sunday afternoon inside Lucas Oil Stadium.

"I’m just frustrated," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth.

The Bengals went into the game short-handed, down their best wide receiver in A.J. Green because of a concussion and top tight end in Jermaine Gresham because of a bad back. Those two accounted for 131 receptions, 1,501 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. They also helped open up the running, Gresham as a blocker and Green with his presence on the field.

A look at the Bengals playoff drought

The running game with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard has been the staple of the offense the second half of the season but the Bengals got just 47 yards on 13 carries from Hill and six yards on three carries from Bernard. The Bengals began the game by converting four of their first seven third-down attempts against the NFL’s No. 2 defense in preventing such conversions. They converted just two of their final eight attempts, including failing six straight times from one point at the end of the second quarter into the fourth quarter.

The Bengals are a team that needs to play complementary football in order to succeed. The offense has to help the defense, which has to help the special teams and any other combination you can conjure up. They got none of that on Sunday. The defense allowed 482 yards, the sixth time this season it has given up 400 yards or more in a game. Indianapolis punter and kickoff man Pat McAfee kept the ball away from Adam Jones for the most part, and when Jones did get his hands on the ball it was either nine yards deep in the end zone or pinned up against the sideline.

It’s been a similar scenario in their previous five playoff losses in the Lewis era. They’ve never scored more than 17 points in any of the games and they’ve been outscored 84-13 in the second halves. Only once in the six games have they lost by single digits.

"It’s frustrating because the team is going to change and it’s not going to be the same group of guys. You only get opportunities every so often," said defensive end Robert Geathers, who is the longest-tenured Bengals player. He was a fourth-round draft choice in 2004. He’s experienced all six playoff losses under Lewis.

"It’s frustrating that we’re not maximizing the opportunity we’re getting. We know we’ve got what it takes but for some reason we keep falling short. It’s just frustrating."

Lewis remains under contract for next season. Maybe another franchise would be looking for another leader on the sidelines but unless Lewis decides he doesn’t want to be coaching anymore he will be back.

"It’s my plan," said Lewis. "It’s not about me. I’m talking about our football team, wherever our football team is. Obviously every year you create a new football team. That’s part of it unfortunately. Tomorrow is not promised for anyone. That’s part of the life in the NFL and what these guys have (to face) in the finality of losing when you lose in the playoffs."

For a fourth straight year, that finality came all too swiftly.

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