Bengals heading for playoffs on downer

Published 4:00 am Tuesday, December 30, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) — With another horrid performance in prime time, the Bengals let it slip away.

The defending AFC North champions surrendered their title — and the chance for a home playoff game — on Sunday night. Pittsburgh came away with the division championship by beating the bumbling Bengals 27-17 at Heinz Field.

Cincinnati (10-5-1) had to settle for a wild-card berth after leading the division most of the season. The Bengals will play at Indianapolis (11-5) on Sunday in the first round.

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It was a huge disappointment for a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season and has been at its worst in the biggest games, such as the one on Sunday night.

Andy Dalton threw two more interceptions, and the defense allowed Ben Roethlisberger plenty of time to throw — two very bad signs heading into the postseason.

“So last night was kind of a warm-up,” offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said on Monday. “We kind of didn’t pass that test. But that one didn’t count for what this one will count for, so we’re lucky that way. But onto the next.”

Up next is a familiar foe that provided some of the Bengals’ worst moments of the season.

Cincinnati went to Indianapolis on Oct. 19 and lost 27-0, the first time in five years that the Bengals were shut out. They didn’t even cross midfield until the fourth quarter and finished with 135 total yards.

Receiver A.J. Green was sidelined for the game with an injured big right toe, and rookie Jeremy Hill hadn’t yet been promoted to a starting job, so the Bengals will be a bit different in the rematch.

“Oh, there’s a much different mindset,” Jackson said. “And there should be. There should be a mindset that has some confidence.”

The Bengals have been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round each of the past three seasons, with Dalton playing some of his worst games. It’s contributed to one of the worst stretches of playoff futility in NFL history.

Cincinnati’s 23-year stretch without a playoff win is tied for sixth-longest in league history. Marvin Lewis is 0-5 in the playoffs; a loss on Sunday would tie him with Marty Schottenheimer, Jim Mora and Steve Owen for most consecutive coaching losses in the playoffs.

A loss also would leave Lewis tied with Mora for most consecutive playoff losses to start a career.

And then there’s Dalton, whose 0-3 mark in the playoffs leaves him one shy of tying Warren Moon for most consecutive opening-round losses. He’s thrown for one touchdown and six interceptions in the postseason with a passer rating of 56.2.

“No, we don’t feel any more pressure,” Dalton said on Monday. “We understand what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s something that ever since I got here we’ve been trying to do. We’ve got a good test this week and a good opportunity to go get our first (playoff) win.”

The Bengals also have never won a playoff game on the road in their history.

Even after a first-round loss at home to San Diego last season, Lewis got an extra year added to his contract, which runs through 2015. And Dalton got a six-year deal in the offseason as well, so he’s likely to be around again, regardless of what happens in Indianapolis.

With so much focus on just getting one playoff win, Lewis is talking about a bigger picture — winning a Super Bowl, which the Bengals have never accomplished. They’re 0-2 in title games.

“In my mind, there’s a bigger one than this one,” Lewis said.

Notes: Green is being evaluated for a concussion after a hard hit knocked him out of the game on Sunday. It’s unclear whether he’ll be available to practice later in the week or to play on Sunday. … Lewis said several players came out of the game with minor injuries that shouldn’t prevent them from playing in Indianapolis. … The Bengals went 5-2-1 at home and 5-3 on the road this season. They’re 3-7 all-time in Indianapolis, having dropped their past seven games there since 1998.


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