You don’t hedge a bet when placing playoff money on the Kansas City Chiefs or Cincinnati Bengals. If you have a brain in your head, you don’t make the wager at all. May as well give your money to the homeless or convert your savings into bitcoins, because in January, the Chiefs and Bengals stopped winning back in the 20th Century.
Just when we were recovering from motion sickness after the latest and most agonizing of Chiefs Chokes — losing 45-44 to Indianapolis after leading by 28 points in the third quarter, the second-biggest postseason collapse in NFL history — the Bengals were outscored 20-0 in the second half at home in a miserable 27-10 loss to San Diego. The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since 1993, losing a league-record eight straight. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990 and have lost their playoff opener the last three years. Go ahead and rationalize that it’s far preferable to reach the postseason than to be Jacksonville or Cleveland, but I’m not so sure.
Fans in those cities aren’t teased and, ultimately, tortured. Fans in those cities aren’t taken for a four-month joyride, then dropped out of the plane without parachutes. And it’s not merely a trend, a slump.
It’s an unshakable crisis, submerged permanently in their DNA.
At least Kansas City’s crash, though historic, was cushioned by a fine regular season that followed a tragedy-ravaged, 2-14 nightmare. The Chiefs were on the road, lost All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles with a concussion on the opening series and fell victim to an epic performance by Andrew Luck, who is forming his own legend in the same town where Peyton Manning crafted his. “I sat there and talked to them this morning and there were a lot of long faces,” coach Andy Reid said the day after. “They had their hearts ripped out. I can work with that. They should hurt. That’ll make us better.”
The Bengals have no excuses. They were at home, where they were 8-0 in the regular season. Their defense was the highest-ranked of AFC contenders. They were playing a team that didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs and only got in because an officiating crew botched a play. Some of us actually wondered if they could be the next Baltimore Ravens, the darkhorse that might break through in New England and Denver and steal a Super Bowl. But I hesitated, knowing Cincinnati has a red-headed-stepchild quarterback and a playoff-phobic coach.
True to form, Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis imploded again.
Dalton committed three second-half turnovers, two interceptions and a fumble, and was booed out of the stadium. He couldn’t handle pressure from the Chargers defense and looked rattled. Lewis, now 0-5 as a playoff coach, was outstrategized by his rookie counterpart, Mike McCoy, who didn’t rely on Philip Rivers in the passing game as much as a running game that gained 196 yards. As the Chargers did in beating Denver last month — and as they surely will attempt to do again in their rematch this weekend — they emphasized ball control and defense. Rivers looked frustrated at times, but, hey, he’ll take it.
“The way our defense was playing, as long as we didn’t have a disaster and we made plays when they were there, we were going to win this game,” Rivers said.
The disaster was in Dalton’s lap. He’s now 0-3 in the postseason, with six interceptions and only one touchdown pass. Said Lewis: “I don’t have any questions about Andy’s role in this thing. We just have to keep working it. We’ve got to make sure we’re doing everything to help Andy all the time. He’s going to be very disappointed in himself today. He is the football team.”
Wow. The whole football team? Sounds like a coach who isn’t taking responsibility. Said Dalton: “Unfortunately, the last three years, we haven’t been able to win one of these playoff games. Obviously, there’s going to be criticism and talk, but until you win and prove people wrong, people can say whatever they want. Whatever you do in the regular season doesn’t matter once you get to the playoffs. It’s disappointing. All the good stuff we did this year, then to come out and not win this game kind of hurts.”
Kind of hurts? Fans of these playoff flops are using cruder language. No one is calling for heads in Kansas City, not after Reid turned around the mess in a hurry and Alex Smith played well in Indianapolis. But after a decade of swinging and missing, it’s time to replace Lewis. And in a league predicated on outstanding quarterback play, dealing with the ebbs and flows of Dalton doesn’t sounds like a wise path. If the team helmets have a design that looks like so many skid marks, it’s because the Bengals always are having ill-timed, inexplicable accidents.