As Browns end drought, Bengals mark 30 years since last playoff win

CINCINNATI -- The anniversary came and passed in Cincinnati with little to no fanfare.

That tends to happen when a trademark win morphs into a reminder of failure. On Jan. 6, 1991, the Cincinnati Bengals toppled the Houston Oilers 41-14 in an AFC wild-card game at Riverfront Stadium. The names Ickey Woods and Boomer Esiason were involved in the rout that was seemingly another playoff game at the time.

Instead, Cincinnati has been trying to experience a win like that for decades. The franchise recently hit the 30-year anniversary of the game that represents the Bengals' last playoff victory and they haven't been back to the postseason since 2015.

Last Sunday, one Ohio franchise ended its drought without a playoff victory when the Cleveland Browns won their first postseason game since 1994 in an AFC wild-card matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cincinnati, you're (still) on the clock with the longest wait between playoff wins. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is hoping that streak ends soon.

"Hopefully we won't be watching the wild card on TV next year," Burrow said Tuesday.

The Bengals came agonizingly close to ending their postseason drought in 2015 (if you're a Cincinnati fan, you might want to ignore the next few paragraphs).

The promising season went downhill when quarterback Andy Dalton's best season was derailed by a season-ending thumb injury in Week 13. That preceded the infamous AFC wild-card game against the Steelers (again, even Cincinnati fans who can stomach a vat of the city's chili might not have the ability to handle the following). Running back Jeremy Hill fumbled late in the fourth quarter, linebacker Vontaze Burfict leveled Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown for a penalty and Pittsburgh hit a game-winning 35-yard field goal with :14 left for the 18-16 win.

That capped a stretch of five straight playoff appearances, which is still the best mark in franchise history. But the loss was another painful postseason exit for the Bengals.

The outcome had the same vibe as the ill-fated 2005 AFC wild-card game against the Steelers. In that game, the Bengals' first playoff appearance in 15 years, star quarterback Carson Palmer suffered a knee injury on the first pass attempt of the game and tore multiple ligaments. That offseason, the NFL changed the rules to protect quarterbacks and outlaw forcible contact to a passer's knees.

To Bengals fans still reading with one eye open, they're familiar with the success their fellow AFC North rivals have enjoyed since Cincinnati's last playoff victory in 1991. Over that time, the Steelers and Ravens have combined for 36 postseason victories, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

And the Bengals have had five different quarterbacks in that quest to find that next playoff win. Dalton leads the way with 88 completions, while A.J. McCarron (23) surprisingly has more completions than Palmer (19), thanks to his start in the 2015 game.

But it's not all bad for Cincinnati (this is the part where Bengals fans can open their eyes again). Cincinnati has Burrow, who is determined to be healthy for the 2021 season opener after suffering his own knee injury during his rookie year.

And with Burrow comes optimism from coach Zac Taylor and other key players such as wide receiver Tyler Boyd.

"I'm very excited to see what's in store for this team because I really, truly believe that we have the missing pieces to have a Super Bowl run," Boyd said on Jan. 4.

Those in Cincinnati have waited more than 30 years to celebrate a playoff victory again. For many in the city, the next celebration can't come soon enough.