With back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in 30 years and three berths in the last four seasons for the first time in franchise history, one might assume Cincinnati Bengals fans would be spilling optimism and excitement all over themselves.
But instead, their emotions range from jaded cynicism to stone-cold doubt because one thing the Bengals haven’t done during their recent run of success – haven’t done since the elder George Bush was in the White House and the current group of rookies were still in diapers – is win a playoff game.
The franchise’s last postseason victory was 21 seasons ago, which ranks as the longest active streak in the NFL and ninth longest of all time. It was was a 41-14 thrashing of the Houston Oilers in a wild card game at Riverfront Stadium on Jan. 6, 1991.
On Saturday, the Bengals can end the drought one day shy of its 22nd anniversary when they face another Houston team, the Texans, at the site of their most recent playoff failure, a 31-10 loss at Reliant Stadium last year.
“We hear about it from you guys (the media), but we don’t talk about it,” cornerback Leon Hall said of the dry spell. “A win would mean the world to this locker room, and it would mean a lot to this city since it’s been so long. But we look at this year as a totally different year.”
Only 33 players on the 53-man roster were even on the team for last year’s loss, and just 14 were a part of the 2009 loss to the New York Jets. And Robert Geathers is lone survivor from the 2005 disappointment at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with us,” offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “What we did in 2006, ’07 or ’08 doesn’t have anything to do with this football team. What we did 20 years ago certainly doesn’t.
“This team is the last two years,” he continued. “Last year, we did what it took to get into the playoffs when a lot of people predicted us to be 0-16. This year, we got back into the playoffs when a lot of people didn’t think we could. We’re here. The next step is winning a playoff game. Hopefully, we can let that be a chip on our shoulder.”
Even though the current players have had a limited role in the 21 seasons of suffering endured by their fans, they understand it.
“I definitely do,” rookie guard Kevin Zeitler said. “We’re here representing the city of Cincinnati. We understand that. It would mean a lot to the city, but it would also mean a lot to us as individuals.”
“We want to get a win as much as the fans want us to get a win,” added quarterback Andy Dalton.
The 21-year streak actually only spans four playoff games. In addition to the losses in 2011, 2009 and 2005, there was a loss to the Oakland Raiders in 1990, the week after the victory against the Oilers started the drought clock ticking.
Head coach Marvin Lewis knows better than anyone in the locker room what the franchise and its fans have been through, but he said all those failures will be as meaningless as all of the regular-season success when the Bengals step on the field this weekend.
“I think it’s the same thing I’ve said before – it just matters what happens Saturday,” Lewis said. “It’s an exciting time for our team and our organization. But I think our guys realize that just being in the playoffs is not what we’re here for.”
Who: Bengals at Texans
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Radio: 102.7, 104.7, 700