January 6, 1991. That’s a long time ago. It’s also ancient history. Yes, it’s the last time the Bengals won a playoff game. That issue has been drummed into the minds of every person who loves to watch football. But for those who live and breathe the game, it’s a reminder. The day of reckoning is at hand for the Cincinnati Bengals. It’s time to exorcise the demons and put speculation to rest.
There’s a new mindset among the Cincinnati Bengals players. If it’s not about winning — they don’t want to hear it. The attitude has been building since 2011. That’s when the Marvin Lewis-led Bengals began their yearly march into the land of the playoffs. They are currently doing what only the elite teams are supposed to do.
Only four teams currently have more than five years of consecutive playoff appearances. The New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers have seven straight years. The Bengals and Denver Broncos have made the dance five years running. That’s a pretty exclusive country club. It’s not easy to qualify for the playoffs on a yearly basis. The NFL is based on parity. Teams are torn apart each year by free agency and coaches leaving. Bottom dwellers are replenished by the draft. There’s a constant shift.
But the Bengals have been able to keep the core of their team in place. This has been accomplished by the dedication of the players wanting more and management understanding the big picture. That’s the key. The players have always understood what it takes to reach the Holy Grail of the Super Bowl. Management has to back the desire and keep the fire stoked with winners.
The Bengals are blessed with one of the best rosters in football. They’re sound from the top down. The weapons of mass destruction on offense are enough to make any defensive coordinator sweat bullets. The defense is loaded with huge, agile sides of beef that will put fear into any offense they face.
The demons will be exorcised Saturday. There’s no other way it can go down. The Bengals will be playing a Steelers team that has been beat-up and struggled to survive. Pittsburgh is not a top 10 defense. They can be thrown on. In Week 12, Russell Wilson torched the Steelers. According to stats from ESPN, Wilson lit up the Pittsburgh secondary for 345 yards and five touchdowns.
Former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason was more than blunt when asked about the playoff situation in Cincinnati. His take on the situation, via the Cincinnati Bengals site, cuts straight to the heart of the matter.
“They’ve got one of the best rosters in football. Act like it.”
Esiason is the last Bengals quarterback to lead the team to victory in the playoffs. He likes what he sees in the matchup against Pittsburgh. The Steelers have been riding on the inaccuracy and inexperience of backup quarterbacks. Going into the Wild Card game, AJ McCarron is not the same signal-caller they saw in Week 14.
One of the most vocal Bengals players, Adam Jones, understands the door is closing. He knows that now is the time. Bengals brass has kept the players together for this moment. It’s time to put the demons to rest and be the team that has been built for a championship.
“It just speaks to the guys in the locker room,” Jones said of the situation. “The guys upstairs, bringing in everybody. It’s great for the city of Cincinnati. But this time we need a play-off win. It is what it is. We need a playoff win.”
The time is now. Management and coaches can only do so much. The past is a learning tool that teaches what has to be learned. The Bengals understand how to make the playoffs. Now they must kill the demons and move into their destiny.
[Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images]