Last time Bengals won a playoff game: History of Cincinnati’s postseason drought, ‘Curse of Bo Jackson’
It has been a long time since the city of Cincinnati has seen their two biggest sports’ teams advance a round in the playoffs.
The Reds in baseball reached the postseason in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2020 with each season coming to a close swiftly. The Bengals have reached the playoffs in 2005, 2009 and 2011-2015, and each time were eliminated in the wild-card round. The only team that has advanced a single round in the playoffs in the city is FC Cincinnati, back when it was in the USL. Since moving to MLS, it has yet to reach the playoffs.
Cincinnati fans have grown accustomed to playoff disappointment, from Carson Palmer’s injury in 2005 to Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in 2010, losing three straight at home to the Giants in 2012 and Ben Roethlisberger’s game-winning drive against the Bengals in 2016 — with two major penalties at the end — to come back from a seemingly impossible deficit to win 18-16.
The Bengals are back in the playoffs after winning the AFC North for the first time since 2015. They will not only host a game, but they’ll do so as the favorites against the Raiders, with FanDuel Sportsbook placing the Bengals as 4.5-point favorites. Could this be the year Cincinnati moves on?
Sporting News takes a look back at the postseason drought the Bengals have endured, what the world was like when it last won a playoff game, and where their losing run ranks in NFL history.
Bengals’ playoff history
When is the last time the Bengals won a playoff game?
In 1990, the Bengals finished the regular season with a record of 9-7, tying the Houston Oilers and the Steelers for the best record in the AFC Central, but taking the edge via tiebreaker. The division was the only one in the league without a team that had double-digit wins.
The Bengals faced the Oilers on Jan. 6, 1991, and beat the division foes 41-14 to advance to the AFC divisional round. In that game, quarterback Boomer Esiason, now the CBS Sports analyst, completed 14-of-20 passes for 150 yards with two touchdowns. He also rushed five times for 57 yards and another score. Cincinnati took a commanding 20-0 lead at halftime, and never let up in the game.
The previous year, the Reds won the World Series, marking the last time the city has won a championship. Since 1991, the Reds won the NLDS in 1995, the last time Cincinnati’s MLB team has advanced a round in the playoffs.
‘Curse of Bo Jackson’
Cincinnati won only that first matchup against the Oilers before it faced the Los Angeles Raiders in the AFC divisional round. Los Angeles won that game 20-10 on the strength of two passing touchdowns by quarterback Jay Schroeder.
But that game is not remembered for the outcome, but rather what happened during the game. Star running back and two-sport athlete Bo Jackson took a handoff during the third quarter of the game and raced down the sidelines. It appeared he was headed toward the end zone before linebacker Kevin Walker was able to tackle him from behind, keeping the score close.
At the time, the tackle did not seem significant or particularly damaging, but it was revealed that he had dislocated and fractured his hip. According to an article from The Los Angeles Times at the time, a doctor said that Jackson had avascular necrosis, which meant that blood was cut off from the damaged bone. Jackson never played in the NFL again, and he played in only a few more MLB games during the rest of his career, spending parts of two seasons with the White Sox and one with the Angels, but he never had the stolen base ability or power he had prior to the injury.
The injury to Jackson, an icon in the sports world, led to the belief that Cincinnati was hit by the “Curse of Bo Jackson,” inflicted for ending his career. The Bengals went from a team that reached the Super Bowl in 1988 to the worst team in the NFL between 1991 and 2002. It wasn’t until Marvin Lewis arrived as the team’s head coach that Cincinnati was able to return to the playoffs, but even then, the quick exits from the postseason each and every year has left the city feeling as if a curse lingers over them.
State of the world in 1991
As has been pointed out, the world today is quite different from the world when Cincinnati celebrated a playoff win.
For starters, text messages are now a thing.
But there’s quite a lot else that has changed. Gas was going for about $1.14 per gallon, according to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Three days after the game, the Persian Gulf War would begin with the start of the U.S.’s aerial campaign. President George H. W. Bush’s approval rating was above 64 percent, according to Gallup, and eventually rose up to nearly 90 percent that year, the highest job approval ever by a president to that point. He would lose his bid for re-election a year later.
In the world of technology, Microsoft first launched its office suite in 1990. The most popular phone was a Motorola MicroTac Classic, according to My Broadband. The world was only a year away from the PenLite, Apple’s first attempt at making a tablet computer.
“The Silence of the Lambs” won the Academy Award for Best Picture. According to The TV Ratings Guide, “Cheers” was the No. 1 television program for the 1990-91 season. “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” by Bryan Adams topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles of 1991.
The NFL had only three divisions in each conference, and just 28 teams. Houston was still the Oilers, the Raiders were in Los Angeles, the Chargers were in San Diego and the Cardinals were in Phoenix. At that point, the Patriots had never won a Super Bowl. They’ve since tied the Steelers for the most won in league history.
Tom Brady would have been finishing middle school when the Bengals won, and when Cincinnati next took the field, he would be preparing to enter into high school. The only active Bengals who were alive were Michael Thomas (less than a year old), Kevin Huber (5 years old) and Chris Harris (a year and a half). Joe Burrow was born nearly six years later.
NFL’s longest playoff win drought
Cincinnati’s 30 years without a win in the playoffs is tied for the longest active streak among any NFL team. The Lions are the other team at 30 years. The last time Detroit won a game was when it reached the NFC conference championship game in 1992 following the end of the 1991 season, and lost to Washington. If Cincinnati loses on Saturday, it will surpass Detroit once again for the longest drought.
Every other team in the NFL has won at least one playoff game in the 2000s.
There have only been three teams that have ever gone a longer period of time than the Bengals has without winning a playoff game.
The Cardinals hold the longest streak, and it’s not particularly close. Arizona reached the playoffs in 1998 and made it to the divisional round. However, prior to that, the last time the Cardinals had won a playoff game came in 1947, when the Chicago Cardinals beat the Eagles to win the NFL championship. That’s 51 years of not winning a game in the postseason. During that span, the Cardinals went from being the Chicago Cardinals to the St. Louis Cardinals to the Phoenix Cardinals to the Arizona Cardinals.
The Lions won an NFL championship in 1957, and didn’t win another playoff game until that 1991 season that ended in the NFC conference championship game for a 34-year drought. During that span, they only reached the postseason three times.
The only other longer losing streak in NFL history belongs to the Saints. New Orleans first began is existence as a franchise in 1967 and did not win a playoff game until 2000, when it finally beat the Rams in the wild-card round. It lost to the Vikings in the divisional round.
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