Monday, July 18, 2016

Top Ten Losses

As a Bengals fan - and one who endured the most wretched decade (the 1990's) of football by any franchise not named Cleveland - it is hard to isolate just 10 losses because that was a respectable season in the 1990's.  However, I'm focusing on those heartbreaking, gutwrenching, I'm-going-to-be-ill losses.

If you're a vikings fan, the fourth down TD pass vs. Arizona to knock them out of the playoffs counts.  The loss to the Dirty Birds in '98 counts.  And most definitely Brett Favre's last second interception in FG range vs. the Saint in '09 counts too.

If you're a Green Bay fan, you know it too - when Roger's was hit and fumbled vs. the Cards or when Fitzgerald rumbled for a huge play in OT vs. the Cards again or when Favre again threw a last second interception vs. the Giants to send New York to the Super Bowl vs. the undefeated Pats.

And if you're a Pats fan, you know that feeling when Manning launched that deep pass to David Tyree for the "Helmet Catch" or again when Manning threaded a pass to Mario Manningham in 2012.

And Seahawks fans you know it from the worst goal line play call in all of football: Russel Wilson's interception int he 2015 Super Bowl.

And remember as a Bengals fan, these are the games that Cincy just let get away.  I'm not talking about the 40-0 pastings to the old Houston Oilers or Steelers.  These are the heartbreakers.

So here are my top ten most gut-wrenching losses -

10. The 2013 road loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Oh what one lousy quarter can do.  The Bengals were keeping pace with the Cards on the road in Arizona.  They were up 14-7 at halftime.  Then they laid a total egg in the third quarter, falling behind 31-14.  They were able to climb back in the game in the fourth quarter by scoring 17 points.  They drove deep into the Cards' redzone, trailing 31-28, Cincy was in prime position to take the lead and run some time off the clock.

Then on a third and four play, Cincy called a pass/run option.  Instead of handing the ball to Gio Bernard, who likely would have easily gained the yardage for first down.  Instead Dalton threw to the end zone to AJ Green on a go patter.  They even got the match up they wanted as they had Green on a back up corner.

They missed by just an inch as Green's foot just came down out of bounds.  They kicked the field goal but let too much time for Palmer and Fitzgerald to go right down the field - mostly picking on our third corner, Leon Hall, to get in position for the last second field goal.

This loss was brutal because the Bengals missed out on home field advantage in the playoffs by one game.

9.  The 1989 last second road loss to the Houston Oilers.

This was a Monday Night Football game in what was then known as "The House of Pain."  The Bengals - who were struggling to win games despite starting out 4-1 and going 5-1 in the division.  This was their loan loss in the division.

The Bengals hated the Oilers back then (they would trounce them 61-7 just a few weeks later), and they always struggled on the road here.  But this one was one that they let get away.  Despite huge plays - a long touchdown pass to tight end Rodney Holman and a long TD run by James Brooks, the Bengals gave up a last second field goal to lose 21-24.  Had they won this game, they'd have gone 6-0 in the division and made the playoffs.

8.  The 2003 last home game vs. the Browns

This was Marvin Lewis' first season.  The Bengals were coming off a brutal 2-14 season and a decade of pure misery.  But in his first season, Marvin had the Bengals sitting at 8-7 with a final game against the Browns at home.  They had to beat the Browns and then hope the Steelers would beat the Ravens that night and they'd be in the playoffs as division champs.

But they laid a total egg, losing 22-14.  Cincy finished 8-8, which was much better than anyone ever expected after going 2-14, but this would have been their first winning season since 1990 had they beaten the Browns.

7.  The 2006 last home game vs. the Steelers

It must be something about home finales.  The Bengals were division champs the year before (despite losing their home finale against the Bills, by the way), but Baltimore clinched the division.  Still, Cincy had come on late and needed a win in one of their last three games (a Monday night game vs. Indianapolis, a Christmas Eve road game vs the Broncos, and the final home game vs. the Steelers, whom the Bengals beat in Pittsburgh in the second week of the season).

The Bengals just needed one win . . . but they couldn't pull one off.  They were close to taking down the Steelers.  The Bengals were on their way to Bungling the game away.  But then they forced a turnover, just as the Steelers' running back was heading into the end zone.

Then they drove down to score a touchdown.  This was destiny.  For the year before in the playoffs Carson Palmer tore his knee on his first pass - a 77 yard bomb to Chris Henry, who also hurt his knee on the play.

And on this drive Palmer happened to hit Henry for another 77 yard gain.  Cincy was in field goal position to take the lead with a last second field goal.  But Shayne Graham missed.  The game was headed to OT.

On their first play in OT, Big Ben hit Santonio Holmes for a 70 yard touchdown and the game was over.  So were the Bengal's playoff hopes.

6.  The 2006 last road game vs. the Denver Broncos.

Again, Cincy just needed on win to return to the playoffs as a wild card in 2006.  This game was a heartbreaker as I watched it at grandma Gail's in Grand Forks.  Things started off strong as then rookie Jake Culter threw an INT that the Bengals returned to the one yard line, but then Palmer through an interception trying to force a pass in to TJ Houshmandzadeh.  That wouldn't be his last interception of the day though, as Champ Bailey would make life rough for the Bengals' QB.

The thing that made this loss so tough was that the Bengals outplayed the Broncos.  They were up 17-
14 at the half.  They threw for yards and they ran for yards.  Their no huddle offense was killing the Broncos defense, but turnovers and mistakes killed the Bengals this afternoon.

On one play in the second half, the Bengals' no huddle had the Broncos' defense totally exhausted.  They were going up tempo and the defensive line wasn't even set when Palmer handed off to Rudy Johnson who ran around the right side for a big gain.  They only guy ready on the entire Broncos' defense was John Lynch who hit Johnson with a forearm to jar the ball lose and cause a turnover.  Still, the Bengals were able to drive the length of the field and score a touch down with just a few seconds left to tie the game at 24.

Or that's what I thought.

I remember saying, "They still have to make the extra point."

And the snap sailed through the holder's hands.  We were down 23-24.

The Bengals did manage to recover the onside kick . . . but their rookie line backer Ahmad Brooks was offsides.  Game over.

5.  The 2009 home opener vs. the Denver Broncos.

The Bengals were on the verge of losing 0-6.  Then Palmer was able to finally get the offense to come alive and score a TD with just a few seconds remaining.

I was in the bathroom at the Hillsboro Burger King when I got the update on my phone.  I was the least shocked fan in all of football that day.  I knew if the Bengals could piss away a game, they would.

And that was exactly what they did.  The Broncos scored on an 87 yard Hail Mary when Leon Hall accidentally tipped the ball high into the air and it sailed right into the arms of a wide open Brandon Stockley who then into the end zone to seal the win for the Broncos 12-7.

It is a play that you just have to see to believe.

4.  The 2013 wild card playoff loss to the Chargers.

This maybe hurt worse than all the others.  Even the Super Bowl.  I mean the Bengals have lost 7 straight playoff games, an NFL record.  But this game.  This game should have been the one where Cincy ended the drought. But Dalton played his worst game of the season, fumbling the ball away and throwing desperate interceptions.  Likewise, the defense, which ranked in the top five overall, couldn't force San Diego to punt.

So a team that shouldn't have beaten a Kansas City team who was resting all of their starters, needed a miracle to squeak into the playoffs.  And the got it when the refs didn't note they had an illegal formation on a fake punt.  And this team absolutely throttled the Bengals.

3.  The 2005 wild card playoff loss to the Steelers.

2.  The last second bungling loss to the Steelers last year.

Just like 1988 and 1981 (Super Bowl season for the Bengals), Cincy was coming off a 12-4 season.  This year was different, though.  After leading the team to a 10-2 record, Andy Dalton broke his thumb on the first drive of a loss to the Steelers and was done for the year.  Still, AJ Mccarron stepped in and played well vs. the Steelers.  He beat San Fran and Baltimore.  And he lost a close game to Denver in OT, a game had they won, they would have had home field advantage for the playoffs!

Still the Bengals gritted an ugly game out vs. the hated Steelers.  Late in the game, Mccarron threw AJ Green his first TD pass in the playoffs, to put them up 16-15. Hue Jackson then called the worst two point conversion play in the history of two point conversions (why didn't he run wild cat with Mo Sanu at QB?).  Instead of being up by a FG, the horrific play call left the game at 16-15.

On the ensuing play, Vontaze Burfict, who had missed the first 6 games with a knee injury, and who was playing the game of his life (a fumble recovery, a sack on Big Ben that resulted in him having to leave the game) intercepted the Steelers back up QB.  They had the ball deep on the cusp of the redzone.  Kicks a FG and you're up 19-15 and the Steelers have to score a TD, which they had been struggling to do against this defense all night.

On the next play Mccarron handed off to Jeremy Hill who slashed threw a hole for a solid 8 yard gain.  The only problem: he had the ball stripped out just before his knee touched.  Now it should be noted that the only reason Hill, who was plagued by fumbles all year, was carrying the ball because our closer at RB, Gio Bernard, was knocked out of the game by a vicious hit (and now an illegal hit) by Ryan Shazier.

Still, the Steelers had to drive almost the length of the field with an injured Big Ben.  And they did just that thanks to two brutal personal fouls by Burfict and Adam Jones.

Game over.  The magical season over - yet again - in the first round of the playoffs.

1.  Super Bowl XXII - a four point loss to the 49ers, 16-20.

Oh, the horror.  The Bengals were up late in the game 16-13.  They kicked a go ahead field goal with 3:20 in the game.  They kicked off, and thanks to a penalty, found themselves pinning the Niners on their own 8 yard line.  That means the 49ers had to go 92 yards in 3:10.  They only needed roughly 2:40 seconds to do it.

Boom.  The championship, after a magical 12-4 season in which their offense was the best in the league and their defense was remarkable in the playoffs, was gone.  On top of that, they have won one playoff game since this moment.

No comments: