“If we can eliminate some of the little mistakes, we’ll have a chance to put together a streak of wins. There’s no doubt in my mind we can do it.”
That quote came out of the Cincinnati Bengals locker room five years ago, rolling off the lips of former offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth after the Bengals had dropped their fourth consecutive game to fall to 3-5.
That team went 7-1 down the stretch to finish 10-6 and earn a wild-card berth, a performance that could serve as inspiration for the current Bengals, who also find themselves wallowing at 3-5.
“The only thing you can take from that is know that it’s possible,” said safety George Iloka, who is one of 15 players on the current roster who experienced that improbable run.
“You can look at what’s happened before,” quarterback Andy Dalton added. “The biggest thing we have to worry about is just worrying about this week. That’s the mentality you have to take. You stack games on top of each other. You get a win, you get another win, you get that momentum going, you play well, and that’s what it comes down to.”
From 1990, when the NFL went to the current playoff format, until 2011, there were 121 teams that started 3-5, and only seven (6 percent) rallied to make the playoffs.
The Bengals were not the only team to pull it off in 2012. Washington also rebounded from a 3-5 to not only make the playoffs, but win the NFC East Division.
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From 2012 to 2016, 34 teams have started 3-5. The 2012 Bengals were one of six to reach the postseason, three of which did it in 2015 — Houston, Kansas City and Washington.
Right guard Clint Boling, one of four offensive players remaining from the 2012 team, said he remembers going on the run but not much about what went into the turnaround.
“I don’t remember the exact feeling and the way that it played out,” he said. “I don’t remember as well as I would like.
“Obviously we’ve been there, we’ve done it,” he added. “I think as long as you’re still in it and you still have some hope that you can succeed and play well and get a win, you take it one game at a time and it can carry over.”
The outlook was even more dire in 2012 as the Bengals arrived at 3-5 after a four-game losing streak, with three of the losses coming at home.
But they routed the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants 31-13 the following week to begin a four-game winning streak that also included an impressive 28-6 win at Kansas City and a 34-10 domination of Oakland in Carson Palmer’s return to Paul Brown Stadium.
The only blip in the 7-1 finish was a 20-19 home loss to Dallas when the Cowboys scored 10 unanswered points in the final 6:35. But the Bengals clinched a playoff berth two weeks later with a 13-10 win at Pittsburgh.
“Andy just told me about that (run),” Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green said. “I had forgotten that it happened.
“We’re still in this thing,” he added. “Surprisingly, we’re still in this. You look around the league and a lot of teams are 4-4, 3-4, 3-5, so we can pave our way to try to turn this thing around.”