A Familiar Feeling




If it happens again, will anything change?

You know where I’m going with this. If the Bengals go one-and-done in the postseason for the fifth consecutive year (and in their seventh straight postseason appearance), will Marvin Lewis (under contract through 2016) and/or Andy Dalton (under contract through 2020, but can be cut after this season with virtually no penalty) lose their jobs?

It’s a preposterous practice, boiling down the year-long narrative of an entire organization to one game, but, frankly, it’s a deserved procedure with these Bengals. The incumbents, most notably Lewis (more wins than any of the other eight coaches in Bengals history) and Dalton (only the second quarterback of the Super Bowl era to reach playoffs in each of his first four seasons) have enjoyed their fair share of success over the past four years, but those triumphs have been poisoned by grim individual and team failure in the postseason.

31-10 to Houston. 19-13 to Houston. 27-10 to San Diego. 26-10 to Indianapolis.

As crude as Dalton’s postseason statistics are—one passing touchdown, four fumbles, six interceptions, 57.8 QB rating—Lewis’s playoff misdeeds are arguably even more cringe-worthy. The Bengals head coach owns an 0-6 record, with his team getting outscored 158-64 in those six contests, including 84-13 after halftime.

Those numbers are harsh, but what do they mean?

Have the Bengals been outplayed on the field? Obviously.

Have the Bengals been outfoxed on the sidelines and in the meeting rooms before and during playoff games? Almost certainly.

Have the Bengals been the victim of cruel misfortune (paging Kimo von Oelhoffen), strange happenstance (Shayne Graham missing from 28 and 35 yards vs. the Jets), and inexplicable moments (Dalton overthrowing A.J. Green)? Without a doubt.

Given the spate of injuries last season to key players and the fact that the Bengals essentially trotted out their ‘B’ Team in Indianapolis last January, the organization collected a one-year mulligan for the latest playoff defeat. But if a mostly healthy Bengals outfit drops another first-round playoff contest to extend their miserable and historic one-and-done streak to seven games, will things really change?

In this sportswriter’s eyes, the answer is no. So long as the Bengals sidestep a theoretical internal collapse (another rash of player misbehavior, for example) and Dalton fails to suddenly morph into Akili Smith (during the regular season, that is), I believe the status quo will prevail. Translation: Lewis and Dalton will keep their jobs.

In a way, I can’t blame Mike Brown. The previous franchise record for successive playoff appearances was two; that record is now four. The previous franchise record for consecutive winning seasons was three; that record is now four. Stability has manufactured 40 wins over the past four campaigns.

The roster will change dramatically whenever the Bengals’ 2015 culminates. As of this writing, Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Vinny Rey, Emmanuel Lamur, Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Reggie Nelson, and George Iloka are free agents after the 2015 season. The Bengals can’t retain everyone, so pieces will be lost, even though the core will likely stay intact.

Over the past few years, the preseason has produced a few heartwarming storylines that have either directly or indirectly numbed the sting of the previous season’s heartbreak. This summer has been no different. Tales have been spun regarding Lewis’s vision (or is it a hallucination?) of the scene following a prospective Super Bowl win. The Leadership Baton has passed from Mt. Whitworth to Dalton, who purportedly has been more engaging and articulate around his teammates. But that’s all fool’s gold.

I’ve written this before, but now is the time. (Hell, Jeremy Hill has been with the team a year, and even he’s fully cognizant of the stakes.) On paper, the 2015 Bengals possess the most depth, experience, and talent of any unit since Lewis took over prior to the 2003 season.

As former Bengals’ defensive back Solomon Wilcots so aptly stated recently, Lewis “raised the Titanic” in revitalizing the Bengals. Now, it’s time to rename the revived ship ‘Playoff Victory’ and put her out to sail down the Ohio River. The excuses are running out, even if the chances keep piling up.

Grant Freking is a Fulcher 2 Stay and Cincinnati Magazine contributor, and also writes for Redleg Nation and The Ohioan. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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