CINCINNATI — Another year, another postseason and another colossal failure by the Bengals. All of the fears and trepidations of their fans, and of the organization itself, came to fruition Sunday in a 27-10 loss to San Diego in an AFC Wild Card game at Paul Brown Stadium.
All week leading up to the game was spent talking about getting over that playoff hump. It had been 23 years since the Bengals had last won a postseason game. The push was on to make sure the game was sold out so fans could see it in the local TV markets — the Mayor of Cincinnati even joined the pitch campaign. This was the team that had been built for this moment.
Bengals fans gathered at Paul Brown Stadium hoping to see their team win its first postseason game in 23 years, but were sent home disappointed once again.
This moment was another egg.
"I’m disappointed by us," said Marvin Lewis.
That’s a sentiment being shared by all Bengals fans.
For the fifth time under Lewis, and the third consecutive year, the Bengals bombed in the postseason. They didn’t just lose a game. They straight up got beat by a team that was better prepared and proved it could better handle the situation by executing when it mattered.
The last two years the end of the season came in Houston. The Bengals were upstarts of sorts in those games, so the losses weren’t unexpected. This wasn’t the case this time. They had gone 11-5 and beaten some good teams along the way. There was no backing into the playoffs. They had handled this San Diego team a month ago in California, 17-10.
It wasn’t just that they were expected to win; it’s that the entire franchise put so much effort and stock into this season. You don’t have to look very far — Atlanta and Houston being prime examples — of how nothing is given from year to year.
Now all that’s left is the aftermath and rubble of losing yet again in the playoffs.
It’s going to be a long offseason.
"It sucks. I wish you could see how it feels inside me right now," said defensive tackle Domata Peko. "It hurts because we’re going home. The fact that we were three more games away from holding up a trophy is what really hurts. As far as the organization putting our team together, they’ve done an excellent job. They put guys together, put a group of guys that all had the same focus and that was to go all the way.
"They’re doing great things here. I’m excited see what we’ll do this offseason. Hopefully we’ll get more pieces to the puzzle and keep building because we are heading in the right direction."
The Bengals were actually in good shape at halftime. They led 10-7 and had limited San Diego to just 122 yards of offense, most of which came on one touchdown drive. Andy Dalton was playing pretty well. He had completed 12 of 17 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown. Most importantly, he hadn’t turned the ball over.
The second half was a completely different yet familiar story. The big players didn’t come to play big.
Dalton turned the ball over three times in the second half with two interceptions and a fumble. A.J. Green caught just three passes for 34 yards. San Diego ran for 116 of its 196 yards against the NFL’s No. 5 defense against the run. The Bengals didn’t force any turnovers and the Chargers managed to double their yardage total from the first half in their first three possessions after halftime while taking a 20-10 lead.
In Andy Dalton’s three career postseason games, he’s thrown six interceptions and just one touchdown. He’s completed just 56.9 percent of his passes for 718 yards. Green now has 13 receptions for 161 yards and no touchdowns in those three games. He had a key dropped pass in the fourth quarter deep in San Diego territory that would’ve give the Bengals some life and hope.
Just as it was in Houston a year ago, when Dalton overthrew Green on a pass that would’ve been a touchdown if it was on target and given the Bengals a late lead, the Bengals two biggest name players didn’t connect.
Dalton is going to get plenty of blame for this loss but there’s plenty of blame to share.
"Man, it’s not just him," said Green. "I could have made that play down the sidelines for him. If just happens. We’re still young and still got a lot of football left to play. We thought we had the team to take it all the way. That’s the biggest thing, man.
"These last two years, we were coming in feeling we were hoping to win; this game we went in knowing we could have come out with a ‘W’ and that’s the most frustrating thing."
In five playoff games under Lewis the Bengals now have a turnover margin of minus-11. They’ve given up 857 yards rushing in those five games, with Sunday’s 196 yards being the most they’ve allowed.
You can analyze it however you want, but the bottom line is that once again the Bengals are left with too many questions and no answers after another playoff beating.