The Cincinnati Bengals Are Stuck In Football Purgatory

January 6, 1991.

Cincinnati secured it’s most lopsided playoff victory in franchise history, defeating the Houston Oilers 41-14 in the Wild Card round of the 1990 NFL Playoffs. The Bengals have gone 0-7 since that day, including 0-6 under Marvin Lewis (I’ll get back to him in a second). And quite frankly they haven’t looked very impressive in any of those outings either, especially in recent years.

Bengals founder, owner and former coach Paul Brown died right before the start of the 1991 season but the powers of the franchise has already been transferred to his son Mike. When you look at the Bengals franchise history, you almost have to look at it while Paul Brown was in control and while his son Mike was in control because these are two completely different eras. Under Paul Brown’s leadership, The Bengals made the playoffs 7 times (1970, 1973, 1975, 1981, 1982, 1988, 1990) and accumulated a 5-7 postseason record, won 2 AFC Championships (1981,1988), 5 AFC Central Championships. They weren’t perennial Super Bowl contenders, but they were a solid franchise. But the Mike Brown era can best be summed up by his record chart:


As a Steelers fan, one reason I’ve never really taken the Bengals serious is because of this. In my lifetime they haven’t been very good. Now as you can tell, the Marvin Lewis era has definitely been better but still! Mike Brown decided to keep Sam Wyche around for one more in 1991 before firing him to bring in his own guy. His first move was to hire Dave Shula, son of legendary Super Bowl winning coach Don Shula. Shula, who was 32 at the time, coached the Bengals from 1992 until 7 games into the 1996 season. Compiling a 19-52 record under him, Shula lost 50 games faster than any coach in NFL history, doing so in 71 games.

Shula announced his resignation following a 1-6 start during the 1996 season. Offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet became the interim head coach and led the team to a 7-2 finish that season.  You could honestly argue that was the best stretch of his tenure as head coach. The Bengals would on to win 7 games the next year followed by a 3-13 and a 4-12 record in ’98-99. Coslet resigned the day after a 37-0 lost to the Baltimore Ravens (the Bengals third consecutive loss to start the season).

Bruce Coslet

So of all people, guess who becomes the Cincinnati Bengals next head coach? This man:

Despite being one of the best defensive minds in football history (although his 2nd stint with the Bengals from 97-02, Dick LeBeau’s defenses were never as great as they were in Pittsburgh or back in Cincy in the 80s), he was never able to put a formidable offense on the field (never finished higher than 18th in yards per game). His teams never won more 6 games (4 in 2000, 6 in 2001, 2 in 2002) and he was eventually fired after the 2002 season.

Then came Marvin Lewis.

Marvin Lewis with the first pick of the Marvin Lewis era, Carson Palmer in 2003

Lewis spent 2002 as the defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins’, which ranked 5th in total defense and passing defense. He had previously spent 5 seasons before that as the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, which included his record setting defense in 2000 which allowed 165 points in 16 games en route to a Super Bowl victory against the Giants. He was picked over former Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin and Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. The Bengals posted back to back 8-8 seasons but then in 2005 they secured their first winning season and division title since 1990. The Bengals faced off against division rival Pittsburgh in the wild card round and seemed poised to make a playoff run until Steelers lineman Kimo von Oelhoffen hit Carson Palmer’s knee which resulted in him tearing his ACL

Losing in the playoffs have become synonymous with the Marvin Lewis led Bengals. It’s amazing to me that this in his 12 seasons of coaching, he’s been to the playoffs 6 times and have lost all 6 matchups…in the wild card round.

Bust Draft Picks
During the 1990s the Bengals picked in the top 10 of the NFL draft 5 times, which includes having back to back number 1 overall picks in 1994 & 95. Here are a few noteables:

University of Houston QB David Klingler was drafted 6th overall in the 1992 NFL draft

David Klingler was drafted as the 6 overall pick to back up Boomer Esiason. Esiason secretly asked Mike Brown for a trade so at the end of the 1992 season he was gone and Klingler was officially in. Although Klingler set all kinds of passing records when he played at the University of Houston from 1988-1991, it wasn’t realized at the time that he was merely a product of Houston’s “Run & Shoot” offense, just like Andre Ware, who won the Heisman a few years before and was drafted in the first round for Detroit in 1990. Klingler never really had a chance to be a remotely decent quarterback as he was drafted to arguably the worst coach in NFL History Dave Shula and the offensive line couldn’t protect Klingler, who was sacked on 11% of his dropbacks. In 4 seasons with the Bengals, Klingler started 24 games, compiling a 4-20 overall record while throwing for 16 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, (5.6 yard/pass average) and completed 54.2% of his passes. You can argue this is the pick that set the franchise back for nearly a decade.

Ki-Jana Carter, #1 Overall pick in 1995

Kenneth Leonard “Ki-Jana” Carter was drafted 1st overall in the 1995 NFL draft after the Bengals traded their #5 and #36 overall picks to the Carolina Panthers for the #1 overall. The Bengals top running back, Harold Green, averaged 2.9 yards per rush (finished the season with 468 rushing yards). The Bengals desperately needed a rushing attack so it only made sense to draft the Penn State junior, who rushed for 1,539 yards and 23 touchdowns in his final season. But with only luck Cincinnati has, Carter took his third preseason snap and ruined his knee. This would become a theme of not only his time wih the Bengals, but his career in general. He missed the entire season but managed to return primarily as a goal line back for the next two seasons, scoring 15 touchdowns in 96 and 97. But unfortunately he played just four games over his last two seasons and totaled 8 carries and 1 touchdown. Carter is deemed a bust not due to his talent, but because the Bengals traded up to take him with the #1 pick but he barely played due to injuries.

One of the Greatest Collegiate 1 Hit Wonders of All Time, Akili Smith

Remember that 1999 NFL Draft? You know, the draft where Mike Ditka traded all of his draft picks to the Washington Redskins just so he could draft Ricky Williams 5th overall? Yeah that was supposed to be the Bengals. Ditka originally offered the Bengals 9 draft picks in the 99/00 drafts so he could move up to the 3rd overall but (for some reason) The Bengals felt they were on the short side of the deal and rejected that, opting to draft the dynamic Oregon senior QB Akili Smith. And he was definitely dynamic:

But the biggest knock on Smith (much like Cam Newton when he came out) was the fact that you had such a limited sample size. His junior season was so so, throwing for 1,385 yards, 13 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. But his senior season he exploded for 3,763 passing yards (1st in the Pac-10/6th in the NCAA) and 32 passing touchdowns (1st in the Pac-10/5th in the NCAA). The Akili Smith era began with a contract dispute which resulted in him missing most of training camp. During his four seasons with the Bengals, Smith started 17 games, recorded a 3-14 record, completed only 46.6% of his passes, threw 5 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and had a career quarterback rating of 52.8.

“I’m kind of baffled that they drafted me. Ten games into my second season, they benched me, and it was over after that.” (Read that link)

go ahead and type in, it’s still up but I do believe it hasn’t been updated due to the “success” of the Marvin Lewis era.

Mike Brown

And Mike Brown’s has been a major part of why the Bengals have struggled. Under his leadership, the Bengals have posted just 5 winning seasons… out of 23 seasons he’s been the owner. Part of the reason I consider the Bengals to be in football purgatory is because of Mike Brown.  Between 1991-2009, Brown received at at least a $1 million dollar bonus each for being the “general manager. So the bad draft picks and the bad coaching hires have all fallen on his shoulder, although he doesn’t see fit that he take any blame for the franchise’s struggles, he does accept his criticisms. In recent years, he’s eased on up being the shot caller, instead allowing head coach Marvin Lewis and and executive vice president Katie Blackburn do it instead.

After all, Hue Jackson convinced Brown to draft Giovanni Bernard in the 2013 draft. Not the typical type of back Brown would’ve drafted.

Brown was also convinced by former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to draft Andy Dalton instead of Colin Kaepernick….

But if you ask me Brown’s loyalty might be the biggest issue…well one of the biggest issues. How on earth Dave Shula was given the chance to coach for 4 and a half years is beyond me. I don’t even know why Marvin Lewis is still a head coach. He’s been the head coach for 12 seasons but he’s yet to win a playoff game? Wow. I understand black coaches don’t get very many opportunities in the NFL to be a head coach but Lewis should have been fired now.

The Marvin Lewis era perfectly represents football purgatory. It’s like the Bengals are “winning” but that’s just in the regular season, as long as it isn’t on primetime. But one of the main reasons (at least I think) he hasn’t fired Lewis is because it took him 12 years to finally get a winning coach. He doesn’t want to go back to the “before time”. But it’s quite ridiculous that the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1991, especially with the roster’s they’ve had in recent seasons. Look, your team is led by this guy:

The Andy Dalton era has been one of many ups and downs. Some games he’s good for you, then he’ll play awful (see he image above) only to bounce back and throw 3 touchdowns and 300 yards the next week. And I mean what can you do? You’ve been able to win games with Andy. You’ve also lot games with Andy? You’re stuck with him, at least for now.

But if you want to know something about the Bengals franchise, it should be this:

The head coach/quarterback that will be able to lead the Bengals to success is not currently on this roster.


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