Without a playoff win since 1991: The toothless tigers from Cincinnati

Since 1991 without a playoff win
The Toothless Tigers of Cincinnati

By Heiko Oldorp, Boston

The Cincinnati Bengals have been waiting for a playoff win for 31 years – longer than any other professional football club in North America. Now they’re making a fresh start. Ironically, against the club against which it all began.

Is it bad luck, inability or even a curse? Or maybe a mix of everything? How can it be explained that the Cincinnati Bengals have not won a game in the National Football League playoffs for 31 years now, after some very good rounds of points? No other club in North American professional sports has waited so long for a win.

They certainly had options. Not as many as other organizations, but still enough. The Bengals have made the playoffs seven times since their last knockout round success, a 41-14 home win on January 6, 1991 against the Houston Oilers. They lost seven times. This causes frustration, disappointment, anger – and of course mockery.

Stupid loss to Pittsburgh

It was all there. Deserved defeats, painful defeats – and also, as on January 9, 2016, stupid defeats due to your own lack of discipline. Cincinnati led at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers 16:15. The visitors were at the Bengals’ 47-yard line, almost level with the halfway line, and they had just 21 seconds to turn the game around. A first-down pass from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to wide receiver Antonio Brown was a bit too high and the play was over.

But Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict had then mowed Brown down, hit him with full force and helmet first on the head, so that he lay motionless. The referee penalized this “excessive harshness” and “unsportsmanlike conduct” by cornerback Adam Jones with a total loss of 30 yards. Pittsburgh thus advanced to Cincinnati’s 17-yard line. And from there, kicker Chris Boswell effortlessly scored a field goal 14 seconds before the end to give the Steelers a 18:16 victory.

Perfect home record, strong defense – still lost

Whether the Bengal Tigers were favorites or underdogs, they always lost. From 2012 to 2016 even five years in a row. Confidence was particularly high before the home game against the San Diego Chargers on January 5, 2014. The Bengals had won all eight home games of the scoring round, averaging 41.4 points in games four through eight. In addition, their defense was the third best in the league.

And at the break “Cincy” was 10:7 ahead – but in the end there was “one of the most amazing playoff defeats in the club’s history”, as ESPN judged. Quarterback Andy Dalton, who was a major contributor to the two previous years’ losses to the Houston Texans, gave the Chargers three possessions with two interceptions and a fumble. The Californians used this to 20 points and won 27:10.

People forget successful Bengals days

“Whenever they played in the playoffs, you thought, ‘This time they win.’ And then they played their worst game,” the online portal “The Athletic” quoted ex-defensive lineman John Thornton, who wore the Bengals jersey from 2003 to 2008. Chris Crocker played in the NFL from 2003 to 2013, half of them in Cincinnati. Even today, the former defensive back says he’s often heard that he “never won a playoff game.”

Ken Anderson is annoyed that the past 31 years are considered by many to be emblematic of the Bengals. The club stood with him as quarterback and “Most Valuable Player of the Season” (MVP) in the 1982 Super Bowl, losing just under 21:26 to the San Francisco 49ers. Seven years later the same duel, this time Cincinnati lost 16:20. “People forget these days. It sucks,” Anderson said.

Is a curse to blame?

According to The Athletic, 681 professionals and 97 coaches (including all assistant and special coaches) have played and worked for the Bengals since the last playoff win. Nobody was able to finish the series. Some in Cincinnati therefore speak of a curse. And it is said to have started on January 13, 1991. In the playoff game with the Los Angeles Raiders.

Their running back Bo Jackson was a phenomenon. So talented that he played in both the NFL and Major League Baseball at the same time – and was the only player to be voted an All Star in both leagues. However, his outstanding football career ended on January 13, 1991 – by Bengals linebacker Kevin Walker. He had tackled Jackson in accordance with the rules, but the superstar still injured himself. His femur had popped out of the hip socket.

Coach Taylor is only looking ahead

The fact that Cincinnati lost the game 10:20 was initially only a side note due to Jackson’s injury. However, since the Bengals have not won a playoff game since then, it has become the “Curse of Bo Jackson”. When he first heard about it, he laughed and found it funny, says Kevin Walker. But the longer the winless streak lasted, the more he thought, according to Walker, “that there might actually be something to the curse”.

Coach Zac Taylor trusts his team.

(Photo: imago images/Icon SMI)

Zac Taylor doesn’t care about such theories. The Bengals coach is not concerned with any higher powers from the past, but exclusively with the sporting present. The 31-year wait for a playoff win. The seven defeats in the knockout stages. Does not matter. “We don’t talk about it at all. This is the 2021 Bengals – and that’s all that matters,” Taylor said.

Quarterback Burrow as Hope

He’s from Nebraska. His quarterback, Joe Burrow, grew up in Ohio. Cincinnati is in Ohio, so Burrow knows all about the stories of his club’s playoff struggles. “I know exactly how people talk about the Bengals here.” The playmaker was born in December 1996, almost five years after Cincinnati’s last playoff win. Like coach Taylor, he is now in his first playoff game. The two are the main reasons they feel they can finally end the negative knockout round chapters in Cincinnati.

Opponents are the Las Vegas Raiders, against whose predecessors (from 1994 to 2019 it was the Oakland Raiders / editor’s note) the sadness began. It would be the ideal opponent and the perfect opportunity to finally end the bad luck streak, the winless streak, the curse. After 11325 days.

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