The Cincinnati Bengals and head coach Marvin Lewis try for their first playoff victory since 1991 when they host their rival the Pittsburgh Steelers. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo
CINCINNATI -- On Jan. 6, 1991, the Cincinnati Bengals who were only two seasons removed from a Super Bowl appearance, torched the Houston Oilers 41-14 in an AFC Wild Card playoff game.
It's doubtful that any of the 60,012 fans in attendance that day at old Riverfront Stadium could have envisioned that more than 25 years later the Bengals would still be seeking their next postseason win.
The Bengals have enjoyed renewed success under coach Marvin Lewis, reaching the playoffs in six of the last 10 seasons including the last four. But the streak of consecutive postseason losses has reached seven straight.
"The past is the past," quarterback AJ McCarron said. "It's hard to get to the playoffs, period, in this league. It's extremely hard to win a game. There's not a reason to live in the past. I don't think this team does that by any means."
On Saturday night against Pittsburgh, the Bengals will look to rewrite history following a regular season which they began 8-0, and despite losing starting quarterback Andy Dalton to a fractured thumb in Week 12 still had a chance to earn the No. 2 overall seed and a first-round bye on the final Sunday.
The Bengals (12-4) are among the healthiest teams in the playoffs, even with McCarron making his fourth straight start Saturday in place of Dalton.
But with no Dalton and the sour taste of so many recent playoff failings still fresh, the Bengals must face their chief nemesis -- the Steelers -- and hope this time fate has different plans.
"I don't think we change anything we do," Lewis said. "Every season is a different situation -- the health of the team, where you play. The players have earned the opportunity to be in this spot. They're one of 12 teams now. After this week it goes down to eight."
The Bengals players say they're not feeling any pressure.
"I'm ready; I can only speak for myself," cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. "It's all smiles for me this week. It's all about football."
The teams split two hotly-contested games this season, with the Bengals winning a 16-10 slugfest at Heinz Field in November and the Steelers rolling to a 33-20 win six weeks later at Cincinnati, the game in which Dalton went down early.
The trash talking on and off the field on social media was a hot topic surrounding both matchups this season and the history and hatred between the two franchises runs deep.
Nearly $150,000 in fines were issued by the NFL stemming from the last meeting, more than half levied against Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
But the Bengals, at least so far this week, say the importance of advancing in the playoffs supersedes any bad blood.
"We're going to speak by performance," defensive end Carols Dunlap said. "If they want to give bulletin board material they can do it. We're going to put it on tape and do what we need to do to win the football game."
The big news this week in Cincinnati is that Dalton had his cast removed and is close to throwing again in practice. He will not start Saturday as the team has put its trust in McCarron, who has gone 2-1 as a starter and has yet to throw an interception.
A resurgent running game with Jeremy Hill and the return of tight end Tyler Eifert after missing two games because of a concussion make the Bengals' offense formidable.
The defense with the quarterback-crushing tandem of Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins could give Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fits on Saturday.
But it's the Steelers, of course. The same team that handed Cincinnati its most crushing playoff defeat in 2005, when quarterback Carson Palmer suffered a devastating knee injury on the first offensive play.
The Bengals aim to turn the page.
"It's a new slate, it's the playoffs, everybody has zero wins," receiver Marvin Jones said. "The past is the past. It's a playoff game. We have to win. It starts with preparation. We'll be ready."
The Bengals believe that if they can get over the hump of breaking the streak, they could gain some momentum heading into a second-round matchup at New England.
By then, who knows where Dalton will be physically. But, the Bengals and their fans will tread a little lighter without that monkey on their backs.
"If we get that (first) one out of the way I feel like we can get it rolling," Dunlap said. "Hopefully, it'll be the first of many. I like our odds."
SERIES HISTORY: Pittsburgh leads the series, 57-35, including a 31-17 win in the first round of the 2005 playoffs, the game in which then-Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer sustained a serious knee injury. The teams split two hotly-contested games this season, with the Bengals winning a 16-10 slugfest at Heinz Field in November and the Steelers rolling to a 33-20 win six weeks later at Cincinnati, the game in which quarterback Andy Dalton went down.
GAME PLAN: The Bengals say the past is the past, but the team's last postseason victory came in 1991 and the NFL's longest playoff drought is not far from their minds entering Saturday's game. Neither are the Pittsburgh Steelers after two hotly-contested games this season between AFC North rivals with plenty of bad blood. With so much at stake, look for the teams to temper the trash talk. If DeAngelo Williams can't go due to an ankle injury, the Steelers' featured running back will be Fitzgerald Toussaint. Without Williams, the Bengals' pass rush could disrupt Ben Roethlisberger's timing enough to give their secondary a fighting chance against Antonio Brown and the rest of the Steelers' talented receiving corps. The Bengals also would like to establish a running game to take some pressure off AJ McCarron. Jeremy Hill who rushed for a season-high 96 yards last week could factor heavily for Cincinnati. This game will come down to which team can keep their QB clean, avoid turnovers and win the field position battle.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Steelers running back Fitzgerald Toussaint vs. the Bengals defensive line.
--Running back DeAngelo Williams is day-to-day because an ankle injury and as of Tuesday the Steelers say they're preparing as if Toussaint will be the starter. Any lack of a consistent rushing attack could allow the Bengals' pass-rush tandem of Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins to force quarterback Ben Roethlisberger into mistakes and/or take some pressure off the secondary as they try to keep up with wide receiver Antonio Brown and Co.
Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict vs. Steelers OL Marcus Gilbert.
--Gilbert tweeted after the last meeting that he hoped to face the Bengals in the playoffs where "they choke." Burfict was fined around $70,000 for multiple incidents during that game. You would think what's at stake in the playoffs would result in level heads, but this is Steelers/Bengals.