Over the last ten days, Cleveland has been in the NFL spotlight for accusing the football team of being the 'Same old Browns.' A reporter even went as far as to ask 'in the fans words, not his' if the Cleveland Browns were being run by the three stooges.
Although across the state in Cincinnati, the Bengals are not quite at the same woeful level as the Browns, Cincinnati failed to advance to the Division Round of the playoffs for the third straight season.
In 2011 and 2012, the Bengals made the playoffs as a wild card and had to play in Houston with an inexperienced quarterback in Andy Dalton. This year, Cincinnati controlled the AFC North and looked to host a home playoff game for the first time since 2009. The biggest threat to the Bengals reign atop of the division was, and always will be, the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Despite only going 2-2 against the Ravens and Steelers this season and Dalton struggling in those games, throwing seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, the Bengals captured the AFC North. Furthermore, Pittsburgh and Baltimore both missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
It was fitting that Pittsburgh nearly squeezed into the playoffs if it were not for a Ryan Succop missed field goal as time expired. The miracle playoff berth for the Steelers would have forced a fifth game for Dalton and the Bengals against a division foe. Then, Dalton would have had to prove he could win a playoff game versus the team that has been a constant thorn in the franchise's thigh, but Dalton avoided that situation. Even though the Bengals did not take the next step by dominating the AFC North in 2013, no team from the division stood in the way of Cincinnati's first deep playoff run in 25 years.
Cincinnati was at home in Paul Brown Stadium, a place the Bengals went undefeated in during the regular season, against the 9-7 Chargers. On paper, Cincinnati was arguably the most talented and balanced team in the AFC.
But come playoff time, the Bengals continued to make the same mistakes. Rookie running back Giovani Bernard fumbled the ball inside the five-yard line before going in for a touchdown, Dalton threw two costly interceptions and turned the ball over a third time with a fumble, and the defense could not slow down the washed up Ronnie Brown.
The Bengals did not score a single point in the second half.
There will be a lot of question marks to be answered this offseason. Head coach Marvin Lewis told Dalton that he would remain the starting quarterback of the team according to ESPN, however, that does not mean others will not speculate or hope for a change at the position.
It may be unfair to pin the entire loss on one player, but it is hard to figure out what else will need to be improved in the offseason as this was the best Bengals roster in years. It is just as hard to figure out how Dalton can beat great quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, oh, and Philip Rivers in the regular season, then lose to Rivers in the playoffs, at home.
In three postseason games, Dalton is 0-3 with six interceptions and one touchdown pass.
One thing is not hard to figure out, Baltimore and Pittsburgh too good of organizations to be 8-8 football teams for too long. In a down year for both those teams and the roster they had, Cincinnati should have dominated with a 12 or 13 win season. Instead, Cincinnati fans will have to wait a little longer to get its first playoff win since 1990.
Same old Bungals.