Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Boomer, heartbreak: Cincinnati Bengals playoff history by game

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Two years ago, the Cincinnati Bengals were 2-14 and finished with the NFL's worst record. Last year, the Bengals were 4-11-1 and once again finished in last place in the AFC North.

This year? Well, this year the Bengals are division champions and playing in the NFL playoffs.

It's a quick turnaround for the Bengals from the league's worst record to one of its best.

Before picking Joe Burrow first overall in 2020, the last time the Bengals had the No. 1 pick in the draft was 2003. It took the franchise two seasons (2003 and 2004) before finally making the playoffs with its former No.1 overall pick quarterback, Carson Palmer, leading the charge in 2005.

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So if you thought the Bengals were ahead of schedule in terms of making the playoffs, you're not wrong. But the question remains what happens when the Bengals do make the playoffs?

Here's how many times Cincinnati has reached the postseason and what they did when they got there.

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Ross Cockrell (31) recovers a fumble by Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) in the fourth quarter of the NFL AFC wild-card playoff game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016. The Steelers defeated the Bengals, 18-16, on a field goal drive in the final minutes of the game.
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Ross Cockrell (31) recovers a fumble by Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) in the fourth quarter of the NFL AFC wild-card playoff game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016. The Steelers defeated the Bengals, 18-16, on a field goal drive in the final minutes of the game.

Cincinnati Bengals NFL playoff history

The Andy Dalton and A.J. Green run

  • 2015: Wild card round: Jan. 9, 2016 in Cincinnati: Pittsburgh Steelers 18, Bengals 16

  • 2014: Wild card round: Jan. 4, 2015 in Indianapolis: Indianapolis Colts 26, Bengals 10

  • 2013: Wild card round: Jan. 5, 2014 in Cincinnati: San Diego Chargers 27, Bengals 10

  • 2012: Wild card round: Jan. 5, 2013 in Houston: Houston Texans 19, Bengals 13

  • 2011: Wild card round: Jan. 7, 2012 in Houston: Houston Texans 31, Bengals 10

Following a 4-12 season in 2010, the Bengals surprised many by rebuilding under head coach Marvin Lewis. The franchise drafted wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton.

The Bengals went to the playoffs five-straight times and won the AFC North twice. The closest of the games the 2016 playoff appearance. The Bengals, who rallied from a 15-0 deficit in the fourth quarter, had the lead, the ball and had crossed into Steelers territory before Jeremy Hill fumbled with just 1:27 left in the game.

The Steelers went on to score and win the game 18-16.

JANUARY 8, 2006: Carson Palmer leaves the field on a cart after being injured on the second offensive play of the game.
JANUARY 8, 2006: Carson Palmer leaves the field on a cart after being injured on the second offensive play of the game.

Carson Palmer, Chad 'Ochocinco' Johnson Bengals playoff runs

  • 2009: Wild card round: Jan. 9, 2010 in Cincinnati: New York Jets 24, Bengals 14

  • 2005: Wild card round: Jan. 8, 2006 in Cincinnati: Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Bengals 17

The 2005 Bengals went 11-5, won the AFC North and snapped a 15-year playoff hiatus for the Bengals. It was one of the best teams in franchise history and star quarterback Carson Palmer, in his third season and second as the starter, led a team that was fourth in the NFL in points scored.

Of course that game against the Steelers featured one of the most famous plays in franchise history — the Kimo von Oellhoffen hit on Palmer that led to the quarterback's severe knee injury.

So much promise early in the Palmer and Chad Johnson years, but the group only reached the playoffs twice before Palmer temporarily retired following the 2010 season.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason (7) poses with the Bengals' offensive line in Miami as they turn out for Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 1989. From left, back row: Joe Walter (63), Herb Wester (77), Dave Smith (60), David Douglas (67). Front: Brian Blados (74), Max Montoya (65), Bruce Kozerski (64), Bruce Reimers (75), Anthony Munoz (78).
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason (7) poses with the Bengals' offensive line in Miami as they turn out for Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 1989. From left, back row: Joe Walter (63), Herb Wester (77), Dave Smith (60), David Douglas (67). Front: Brian Blados (74), Max Montoya (65), Bruce Kozerski (64), Bruce Reimers (75), Anthony Munoz (78).

The Boomer Esiason, Ickey Woods Bengals playoff runs

  • 1990: Division round: Jan. 13, 1991 in Los Angeles: L.A. Raiders 20, Bengals 10

  • 1990: Wild card round: Jan. 6, 1991 in Cincinnati: Bengals 41, Houston Oilers 14

  • 1988: Super Bowl XXIII: Jan. 22, 1989 in Miami: San Francisco 49ers 20, Bengals 16

  • 1988: Conference championship: Jan. 8, 1989 in Cincinnati: Bengals 21, Buffalo Bills 10

  • 1988: Division round: Dec. 31, 1988 in Cincinnati: Bengals 21, Seattle Seahawks 13

Esiason became the Bengals' starting quarterback in 1985 after being a second-round pick in the 1984 draft. He made three Pro Bowls during his first stint with the Bengals and led the team to a Super Bowl.

The Bengals, sparked by Ickey Woods and his touchdown dance the "Ickey Shuffle," led the 49ers in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXIII before Joe Montana led one of the most famous game-winning drives in Super Bowl history.

Esiason is the last quarterback to win a playoff game for the Bengals.

Photo from “Cincinnati: An Illustrated Timeline”: The Bengals and Chargers face off in the “Freezer Bowl.” (The Cincinnati Enquirer/Gerry Wolter)
Photo from “Cincinnati: An Illustrated Timeline”: The Bengals and Chargers face off in the “Freezer Bowl.” (The Cincinnati Enquirer/Gerry Wolter)

The Freezer Bowl and the Bengals make their first Super Bowl

  • 1982: Wild card round: Jan. 9, 1983 in Cincinnati: New York Jets 44, Bengals 17

  • 1981: Super Bowl XVI: Jan 24, 1982 in Pontiac, Michigan: San Francisco 49ers 26, Bengals 21

  • 1981: Conference championship: Jan. 10, 1982 in Cincinnati: Bengals 27, San Diego Chargers 7

  • 1981: Division round: Jan. 3, 1982 in Cincinnati: Bengals 28, Buffalo Bills 21

The Bengals' first playoff victory was fueled by 1981 MVP Ken Anderson's 192 passing yards and Charles Alexander's 72 rushing yards. Pete Johnson scored two touchdowns. Cris Collinsworth added a touchdown catch as well.

And, of course, Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz was blocking.

Cincinnati went 12-4 in the regular season in 1981.

One of the most famous games in Bengals and NFL history was the AFC Championship game in January, 1982. With temperatures at Riverfront Stadium around -9, the Bengals, led by coach Forrest Gregg, beat the Chargers to advance to their first Super Bowl. There they would lose to Montana for the first time.

DECEMBER 20, 1970: Proud players carried Paul Brown off the field after the last game at Riverfront Stadium when the Bengals beat the Boston Patriots for the AFL Central title.
DECEMBER 20, 1970: Proud players carried Paul Brown off the field after the last game at Riverfront Stadium when the Bengals beat the Boston Patriots for the AFL Central title.

The Bengals first 3 playoff games and the rise of Ken Anderson

  • 1975: Division round: Dec. 28, 1975 in Oakland: Oakland Raiders 31, Bengals 17

  • 1973: Division round: Dec. 23, 1973 in Miami: Miami Dolphins 34, Bengals 16

  • 1970: Division round: Dec. 26, 1970 in Baltimore: Baltimore Colts 17, Bengals 0

The Bengals became a franchise in 1968, and in two seasons founder and Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown led the franchise to an 8-6 record and an AFC Central title. The Bengals lost to Johnny Unitas and eventual Super Bowl V champion Colts.

Three years later, with Anderson as the quarterback and Brown still at the helm, the Bengals returned to the playoffs after a 10-4 season.

Horst Muhlmann's 24-yard field goal is the first playoff points scored in Bengals playoff history, while Neal Craig's 45-yard interception return for a touchdown is the first touchdown in franchise postseason history.

Bengals playoff stats

All this accounts for a 5-14 playoff record for the Bengals.

They are 2-0 in conference championship games and 0-2 in the Super Bowl. The Bengals' biggest hurdle has been the wild-card round with a 1-8 record.

The most points scored was the 41-14 win over the Oilers in 1991, while the only shutout loss remains the 17-0 loss in the Bengals first playoff game.

The Bengals' 439 yards of offense in 2014 against the Chargers is the most in their playoff history, while the the 181 yards allowed in the 21-10 win over the Bills in 1989 is the best mark in franchise postseason history.

Boomer Esiason has most wins in Bengals playoff history at quarterback

Anderson, who became the starting quarterback full time in 1972 and replaced by Esiason in 1985, was 2-4 in the playoffs. Esiason went 3-2 in the playoffs making him the only Bengals quarterback with a winning record in the postseason.

Palmer was 0-2 while and Dalton is tied with Anderson for the most losses with four (0-4).

Dalton was hurt at the end of the 2015 season and missed the 2016 Steelers game. A.J. McCarron was 23-of-41 with 212 passing yards in the loss.

JANUARY 10, 1982: Bengals head coach Forrest Gregg led the team to the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
JANUARY 10, 1982: Bengals head coach Forrest Gregg led the team to the first Super Bowl in franchise history.

Sam Wyche, Forrest Gregg only Bengals coaches to win in playoffs

There are only five Bengals playoff wins and even fewer coaches with those wins: Two.

Sam Wyche, who played for Paul Brown on the Bengals from 1968-1970, was 3-2 (Esiason was his quarterback) as coach. Gregg, an NFL Hall of Fame player with the Green Bay Packers, became the Bengals coach in 1980 and went 2-2 in playoff games.

Marvin Lewis has the worst record, going 0-7 in playoff games, while Paul Brown was 0-3.

Zac Taylor becomes just the fifth coach in franchise history to coach a playoff game. The five other Bengals coaches (Bill Johnson, Homer Rice, Dave Shula, Bruce Coselt, Dick LeBeau) never made the postseason.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Bengals playoff history: all-time record, more

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