CINCINNATI (AP) — Throughout their 44-year history, the Cincinnati Bengals have rarely been more than a one-year playoff wonder.
The Bengals have gone to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons only once. They went to the Super Bowl for the first time and lost to San Francisco during the 1981 season, then made the playoffs again the following year.
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It’s even worse by another measure. Only twice in their history have they followed a playoff appearance with so little as a winning record the following season.
This is a franchise short on staying power. And that’s the first thing they want to change coming off their 2011 playoff loss to Houston.
“That’s definitely the next challenge,” offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “And what does that take? It takes being a consistent team every week and playing our style no matter who we play. That’s what it’s going to take for us to take the next step.”
They’re not getting off on the right foot. The Bengals had an inordinate number of injuries during training camp and the preseason games. Both running backs — BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott — missed games. Starting left guard Travelle Wharton tore up a knee, and center Kyle Cook had a foot and ankle injury that could end his season, too. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, their top draft pick, hurt a knee and missed all the preseason games.
“You can get an onset of injuries that happen right away; you can get injuries that happen throughout the year,” Cook said. “Every team is different. Hopefully with the injuries we’ve had and the guys that are able to come back, it kind of stops the floodgates per se. Hopefully we’re done for the year and everybody stays healthy and people can come back.”
They need to stay healthy — and have a lot of other things go right — if they’re going to go to the playoffs again this season. And that starts with their two young stars.
They went 9-7 and won a wild card berth last season with rookies at quarterback and receiver. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green made the Pro Bowl together in their first go-around. There will be a lot more on them this time around.
Green found himself getting tougher coverage as the season went along. Defenses tried to figure out Dalton’s weaknesses and take advantage of them. With an entire offseason to analyze the duo, opponents ought to be able to do even more this season.
Green expects it.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “Toward the end of the season, they started rolling coverage to my side a lot. But (now) I’m used to that stuff. Now I just have to be able to execute and not get as frustrated as I did last year about it.”
The Bengals hoped to get a proven complement to Green, but head into the season with a lot of young, unproven receivers. The one advantage over last season is that they’ve been together for a year now. “It’s completely different,” Dalton said. “Guys have been in this system a long time. They know what they are doing.
“We’ve installed the offense several times. Everyone knows it by now. We can move guys around.” The core of the defense remains intact, with top cornerback Leon Hall back from a torn Achilles tendon. Nate Clements starts at the other spot, with Kirkpatrick hoping to move into some role early in the season when he’s recovered from his knee injury.
“It’s a long season,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’m not worried about if I’m starting, or am I going to get to play. I can contribute on special teams. I feel like I do a great job on special teams.” The Bengals realize they’re going to have to be much better than last season if they want to make the playoffs again.
They were one of three AFC North teams to reach the playoffs last season, taking advantage of a favorable schedule under the league’s division-vs.-division rotation. Of their nine wins, only one came against a team that finished the season with a winning record.
Overall, they were 0-8 against other teams that reached the playoffs. Essentially, they beat the many subpar teams on their schedule but couldn’t measure up against the best. This season will provide a better chance to see where they stand.
“Teams that are good year-in and year-out are probably your most consistent teams,” Whitworth said. “Every week, they kind of play the same way. That’s what it takes to be that kind of team.
“And this team has the potential to do that, but it’s going to have to prove that first.”