NFL 2016: Same team, hurdle for Bengals


By Joe Kay - AP Sports Writer



CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals are right up there among the NFL’s elite when it comes to reaching the playoffs. Once there, they’re as bad as anybody in league history.

It’s a familiar story, one that fans around town know by heart — and by heartbreak. They had one of the worst meltdowns in postseason history last January while losing to the rival Steelers. And how did they respond? By keeping the team intact, giving the coach a contract extension, and lining up to do it all over again.

Yep. It’s become the Bengals way. Great for 16 weeks, stupefyingly bad for one week.

“There’s a little bit of unfinished business that we want to get past,” running back Giovani Bernard said.

The Bengals have reached the playoffs a club-record five consecutive seasons. Only New England and Green Bay have longer active streaks, having made the playoffs each of the last seven years. Denver also has made it five years in a row.

“We’ve had a solid team over the last five years,” owner Mike Brown said. “We’ve gone to the playoffs each of those years. Three other teams have done that besides us. We’re in good company.”

The company parts as soon as the stakes get high. New England, Green Bay and Denver have won Super Bowls during those impressive streaks of reaching the postseason, with the Broncos getting their title last season. The Bengals have lost in the first round each time, setting an NFL record for futility.

Overall, they haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest streak of postseason futility in league history.

How did they respond to their last-minute meltdown and 18-16 loss to the Steelers in the playoffs last January? They kept the team together and gave coach Marvin Lewis — an NFL-record 0-7 in the playoffs — an extra year on his contract.

Here are some things to watch as the Bengals give it yet another try:

STEADY ANDY: Andy Dalton had his breakout season, leading the AFC in passer rating before he broke his right thumb during a loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 13. The thumb fully healed and he looked sharp in training camp and limited preseason appearances. If he can have a fitting follow-up to last season — 25 touchdowns, seven interceptions, a 106.3 passer rating — the Bengals will be in good shape to get another playoff berth.

COORDINATOR CHANGE: Part of Dalton’s success can be attributed to Hue Jackson’s creativity. The former offensive coordinator went to Cleveland as the Browns’ latest head coach after the season, and Ken Zampese was elevated from quarterbacks coach to coordinator. It’ll be interesting to see how he tailors the offense to his preferences.

“The offense as a whole, and schematically, is going to take on what he likes,” Dalton said. “We have a lot of guys that have been here a while and understand this offense. He understands the players he has. There are some things similar and some things we’ll do different.

NEW RECEIVERS: The biggest loss in the offseason came in the receiving group. A.J. Green is back, but Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu — the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers, respectively — left as free agents. Cincinnati signed Brandon LaFell as a free agent, but he was limited for much of the preseason by a hand injury. Second-round pick Tyler Boyd is set to move into a starting role, but he’ll have some growing pains. And tight end Tyler Eifert — Dalton’s favorite target near the goal line — missed all of camp after surgery on his left ankle. Look for them to lean more heavily on their running back tandem of Jeremy Hill and Bernard in the early going.

MISSING BURFICT: Linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s hit to Antonio Brown’s head on an incomplete pass moved the Steelers into range for their winning field goal in the playoff game and drew a three-game suspension from the NFL. The Bengals allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL last season, but will start this one without their emotional and unpredictable playmaker.

OPENING STRETCH: Burfict’s suspension overlaps a tough opening stretch for Cincinnati. The Bengals open at the Jets, at the Steelers and at home against the Broncos. Following another home game against the Dolphins, they’re at Dallas and at New England. The eighth game of the season is in London — their first trip abroad — against the Redskins. They need to get things worked out fast with that passing game.

___

Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

By Joe Kay

AP Sports Writer

comments powered by Disqus