Cincinnati Bengals: 10 Worst Losses in Franchise History
Some losses just stay with you forever.
Seattle Seahawks fans will never forget their controversial Super Bowl XL loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They’ll always wonder if the officials wouldn’t have missed a call here or missed another call there, would they have been celebrating the city’s first championship?
New England Patriots fans will always wonder what it would’ve felt like to have an undefeated season.
Cleveland Browns fans will always wonder about The Fumble and The Drive.
The sobering reality Cincinnati Bengals fans face is they’ve played exactly three truly meaningful games in their entire existence—and they’ve lost them all.
The following list describes those three losses along with a few more. The 2011 season is going to be difficult, so we might as well just self-destructively wallow in our self-pity for a bit.
So, Bengals fans, grab some ice cream, cupcakes, and Sour Patch Kids and let’s take a depressing stroll down memory lane.
10. September 20, 1992: Green Pay Packers 24, Cincinnati Bengals 23
I remember this game like it was yesterday. The Bengals had won their first two games of the season with a convincing victory over the Seahawks in Seattle and a home win in overtime against Tim Brown, Marcus Allen, and Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Raiders.
They had a 17-3 lead going into the fourth quarter when a young Green Bay quarterback named Brett Favre—making his first career start—gave the Bengals a preview of what the rest of the league would endure for the next 18 seasons. Favre brought the Packers back to win 24-23 on a 35-yard touchdown pass to Kitrick Taylor. His final line was 22 for 39, 289 yards and two touchdowns.
This game marks the beginning of the end for the Bengals. They’d go onto lose 10 of their next 12 games and not have a winning season for 14 years.
9. December 14, 1986: Cleveland Browns 34, Cincinnati Bengals 3
In a franchise littered with losses, some of the most impactful ones aren’t necessarily playoff games or close defeats. Sometimes it’s losses in seemingly random regular-season games that change the trajectory of the entire franchise.
On December 14,1986, the 10-4 Browns faced off against the 9-5 Bengals in Cincinnati. If Cincinnati wins the game they tie Cleveland, with a 2-0 season series edge. The Bengals would’ve found themselves in the playoffs and Cleveland would’ve been on the outside looking in.
Instead, Cleveland dominates the Bengals on both sides of the ball: Kevin Mack ran for two touchdowns, Boomer Esiason threw two interceptions and Bernie Kosar threw for 246 and a TD to keep the Bengals out of the '86 playoffs.
Could a taste of playoff experience in '86 made a difference in the Bengals Super Bowl run in '88?
We’ll never know.
8. November 28, 1976: Pittsburgh Steelers 7, Cincinnati Bengals 3
The Bengals came into this game against their hated rival at 9-2 and in first place, while Pittsburgh was 7-4, but winners of their last six. Had the Bengals won, they could’ve improved to 10-2 and clinched the division.
Instead, Pittsburgh’s Franco Harris scored a four-yard touchdown run and that was all they would need to beat the Bengals 7-3 and keep them out of the '76 playoffs.
The Steelers wouldn’t lose again until the eventual Super Bowl-champion Oakland Raiders beat them in the AFC championship game.
7. November 12, 2006: San Diego Chargers 49, Cincinnati Bengals 41
Jungle Fever was at an all-time high heading into the 2006 season. The Bengals had just reached the playoffs for the first time in 15-years and fans expected Palmer, Rudi Johnson, Chad Johnson, and TJ Houshmanzadeh to regroup from Palmer’s injury and the disappointing playoff loss to the Steelers.
The Bengals were 4-4 heading into the Week 9matchup against the Chargers. They had just suffered back-to-back close losses to the Falcons and Ravens along with a 1-point, Week 6 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This was an important game against a tough opponent.
The Bengals opened up the game by scoring 21 first quarter points, including a 51-yard touchdown pass to Chad Johnson. At halftime, the Bengals lead 28-7 and "Who Dey" nation was abuzz with the dominance being displayed against such a legitimately good team.
Unfortunately, the cream did indeed rise to the top in the second half. San Diego outscored the Bengals 42-13 in third and fourth quarters to rally for a 49-41 victory, and a heartbreaking “oh-what-might-have-been” defeat for Cincinnati.
6. December 24, 2005: Buffalo Bills 37, Cincinnati Bengals 27
This is the modern-day version of the ’86 loss to the Browns and ’76 loss to the Steelers.
The Bengals just needed to take care of business at home, against the lowly 4-10 Buffalo Bills and they would have a shot at the No. 1 seed and a bye in the '05 playoffs.
Instead, Kelly “friggin” Holcomb put up 308 yards and a 105.3 passer rating in what would ultimately be his last quality game as an NFL quarterback to defeat the Bengals 37-27.
The loss set up everything that followed.
Instead of a possible bye, the Bengals had to face the Steelers in the Wild Card—a game where Carson Palmer would get hurt and have his career and the Bengals franchise completely derailed. But, we’ll get to that one in a minute.
5. The Entire 2005 Draft Class
The Bengals were building towards respectability. After a seemingly endless string of lowly seasons, they went 8-8 in both '03 and '04. Their breakout year was '05 and the town reveled in their 11-5 season.
The previous drafts had stacked the Bengals with young, energetic talent on both sides of the ball. Palmer, Johnson, and Houshmanzadeh led the offense and the recently drafted David Pollack and Odell Thurman were going to be the face of the new look defense. Pollack and Thurman were going to the intimidating ball-hawking playmakers in the middle field that set up short fields for the offense.
Fast forward to '07 and both Pollack and Thurman have already played their last NFL games, sealing the fate of what would become the worst draft class in Cincinnati Bengals history, a class that set the defense so far back that it still hasn't fully recovered.
4. January 8, 2006: Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Cincinnati Bengals 17
A picture can say 1,000 words. I'll let this one say it all.
Carson Palmer’s line: 1 for 1, 66 yards passing, one torn ACL, one crushed fan base.
3. January 24, 1982: San Francisco 49ers 26, Cincinnati Bengals 21
Cincinnati played the Freezer Bowl against the San Diego Chargers in the AFC championship. Game time temperatures were negative-six degrees, including a negative 32-degree wind chill.
The Chargers were unable to adjust to the freezing temperatures and the victory propelled the Bengals into their first Super Bowl against Joe Montana the San Francisco 49ers.
A late touchdown pass from Ken Anderson makes the game appear much closer than it actually was. The Bengals four turnovers—including two Ken Anderson interceptions—doomed them from the start. The 49ers led 20-0 at halftime and even though the Bengals chipped away, they could never truly get over the hump and take the lead.
It hurts because it's so rare to get this stage, but it was nothing compared to the Bengals next Super Bowl.
2. January 22, 1988: San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16
Another one that stings.
Thirty-nine seconds from the first Super Bowl victory in franchise history, Joe Montana hits John Taylor in the back of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown; shattering the dreams of Bengal fans everywhere.
It was a legend-making moment for Montana, and fate-sealing moment for the Bengals.
The 49ers had outplayed the Bengals throughout the game, totaling 452 yards of total offense compared to the Bengals 229.
Somehow, the Bengals found a way to have the lead with just 39-seconds to play. The sad truth is the Bengals may not ever get this close to a Super Bowl again in our lifetime.
1. Paul Brown
The Cincinnati Bengals have essentially become an elaborate ATM, spitting out loads of cash for Mike Brown whenever he desires it. They've become the joke of professional sports and were aptly named the worst franchise in sports by ESPN the Magazine earlier this year.
Since Paul Brown's death in August of '91, the Bengals are an embarrassing 116-204-1.
We miss you, Paul.
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