Newman: Bengals' playoff loss on players

CINCINNATI -- As they begin another season, several of the returning Cincinnati Bengals have been in a reflective mood, speaking a couple times already this offseason about what went wrong in their final game last season.

That is what happens when you are part of a team that knew it could have done more in a season when it had all the pieces in place for a postseason run. That is also what happens when you are simply tired of losing playoff games and your window for getting a Super Bowl ring is closing.

Keep that in mind when you read what cornerback Terence Newman had to say about last season's first-round playoff loss to San Diego. After reading across all forms of media that many pinned the blame on coaching decisions and calls, he adamantly said Friday that the defeat rested solely on the shoulders of the Bengals players.

"Everybody that's here knows exactly what happened," he said. "We just didn't get it done.

"You can't blame it on coaches. You can't blame it on management. It was us, the players."

Also keep in mind that Newman, a 12-year veteran who is entering his third season with the Bengals, didn't dress for that ill-fated third straight playoff loss. He had a knee injury that kept him out of that game, and it had forced him to miss the three games prior. Had the Bengals won against San Diego and forced a second-round game at New England, though, he would have played, he said.

There had been some hope during the week leading up to the wild-card round game that he would be ready. But at the last-minute, the staff realized he wasn't quite where he needed to play flawlessly on defense in the game.

Still, whether he played or not isn't the real issue. The point he is trying to make is that the Bengals had chances and they blew them.

"I read all this stuff about Coach [Marvin Lewis] getting criticism," Newman said, "and that's B.S. Coach doesn't play. We play. We did it all year and then we go to the playoff game, we just didn't play. So you tell me whose fault that is."

Much of the postgame criticism centered around the Bengals' play-calling, and the lack of running plays they had in the second half. After having success in that area in the first two quarters, they went away from it in the second half. In the first half, the running backs rushed 15 times for 62 yards. That was the fourth-highest first-half rushing total they had all season.

In the second half, the Bengals had 51 yards on 10 carries. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who ran eight times for 42 yards in the first half, only touched the ball twice in the second half -- the first two plays of the third quarter.

Yes, the Bengals were down at the start of the half, but they only trailed by four. There was still plenty of time in the third quarter for them to gain yards and scores on the ground. It was that fact that frustrated many fans, and rightfully, was pointed out by reporters and columnists.

By late in the fourth quarter, though, San Diego's lead swelled enough for the Chargers to roll to a 27-10 win.

On top of the play-calling concerns, when it came to executing what was called, Newman was right. The Bengals had three second-half turnovers, allowed Andy Dalton to get sacked three times and permitted the Chargers' offense to gash them on the ground for 116 rushing yards in the second half.

Dalton, who took his fair share of heat from fans and pundits alike, said again this week that he accepts a large share of the blame for the loss.

"I was a big part of the reason why we lost," Dalton said. "I wish I didn't have the turnovers and different things that put us in a bad situation, but there were other chances in the game that we could have done that could have turned things around."

The quarterback threw two second-half interceptions and also fumbled. In addition to that, he was criticized for using too much "we" instead of "I" during his postgame comments. Fans wanted to hear him accept more sole ownership for the defeat, something he said Thursday that he thought he did.

"I did hear that, but I didn't really know where it was coming from," Dalton said of the criticism. "I'll be the first guy to say when I did wrong. Obvioulsy the turnovers were my fault. That's what it comes down to. I didn't think I came across that way, but if that's how someone wanted to take it, everybody has the right to their own opinion and they can write whatever they want."

When it comes to bouncing back from the bitter defeat, Newman said he believes the Bengals have already started progressing toward that.

"My mindset, and I've been here for a while, is 'all right, we've got to build for next year,'" he said. "The steps we took during OTAs were definitely positive."

The question now is: what further steps can the Bengals take during training camp?