Looking back: Bengals’ playoff drought started with loss to Raiders in 1991

Raiders pulled away late in the fourth quarter

Credit: Stephen Dunn

Credit: Stephen Dunn

The headlines on the front page of the sports section in the Jan. 14, 1991, edition of the Dayton Daily News told of an Arizona State junior named Phil Mickelson winning the Tuscon Open and of former Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose reporting to an elementary school to start fulfilling 1,000 hours of community service a week after being released from federal prison.

There was also a story on the New York Giants beating the Chicago Bears 31-3, starting a run that would culminate in a Super Bowl XXV victory against the Buffalo Bills.

At the top of the page, though, was the most important local news of the day: a 20-10 loss by the Cincinnati Bengals to the Los Angeles Raiders at Los Angeles Coliseum in the second round of the playoffs.

“Bengals bloodied in L.A.,” read the headline across five of the six columns.

If anyone knew then what that game would represent — the start of an eight-game playoff losing streak that has spanned 30 seasons, the longest active drought in the NFL — the headline would have been twice as large. That’s how big the headlines may be Sunday if the Bengals beat the Raiders, who now call Las Vegas, Nev., home, at Paul Brown Stadium in the first round of the playoffs.

To put that game in perspective, it’s a good time to revisit the last playoff game between the Bengals and Raiders on Jan. 13, 1991. Here’s a look back:

1. The Bengals entered the game on a high note: The Bengals lost 24-17 to the Raiders in Los Angeles on Dec. 17 but then won their last two regular-season games against the Houston Oilers, 40-20, and Cleveland Browns, 21-14. The Bengals won the division title when the Oilers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-14 in the final week of the season. All three teams finished 9-7, but the Bengals owned the tiebreakers.

That set up a first-round matchup between the Bengals and Oilers at Riverfront Stadium on Jan. 6, 1991. The Bengals won 41-14. They wouldn’t win another playoff game in that decade or the next one or the one after that. They’ll make their first playoff appearance in this decade Saturday.

Against the Oilers, Boomer Esiason completed 14 of 20 passes for 150 yards with two touchdowns. Ickey Woods and Eric Ball ran for scores. Harold Green and Eric Kattus caught touchdown passes. The Bengals built a 34-0 lead.

“We just had one of those special days,” Bengals coach Sam Wyche said. “I felt so good about this game before it started that it made me nervous. I was so sure we were going to win this game and win it handily.”

2. The Bengals hoped to stop Bo Jackson in the rematch: The Raiders running back, whose NFL career started in 1987, had played 38 games in his NFL career at that point and had ran 21 times for 276 yards in two appearances against the Bengals. In the Dec. 16 game that season, Jackson gained 88 of his 117 yards on one carry, a run notable for the fact that Bengals cornerback Rod Jones caught Jackson at the 1-yard line.

“Bo’s fast,” Jones said then, “but I’m fast, too. I had to chase him for a long time, but I finally caught him. But I really don’t see why everybody is making such a big deal over this. I mean, I caught him, but he still gained 88 yards and they still scored and they still won the game.”

3. The Bengals slowed Jackson and also ended his career: While Marcus Allen led the Raiders with 140 yards on 21 carries, the Bengals held Jackson to 77 yards on six carries. Jackson left the game in the second half with a hip injury on what looked to be a routine tackle by Bengals linebacker Kevin Walker. However, Jackson suffered a dislocated hip on the play and never played football again. He returned to play three more seasons of Major League Baseball after a hip replacement.

4. The Bengals lost the game deep in the fourth quarter: Jim Breech kicked a 27-yard field goal to give the Bengals a 3-0 lead in the first quarter. They trailed 10-3 when Esiason threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Stanford Jennings to tie the game with 11:49 left in the fourth quarter. Esiason completed 8 of 14 passes for 104 yards.

The game turned on a 26-yard reception by Raiders receiver Tim Brown, who beat Bengals cornerback Eric Thomas to the sideline to convert a first down on 3rd-and-20.

“When he made his break,” Thomas said, “we were so close together I thought I had a chance for the ball. He pushed off a little bit, but I can’t blame what happened on that. It was just bad technique on my part.”

Three plays later, tight end Ethan Horton dove to catch a 41-yard touchdown pass from Jay Schroeder as Bengals linebacker Leon White defended. The Raiders led 17-10 with 8:42 to play.

“I was really shocked that he pulled it in,” White said. “It was way over my head and it was over his head, too, but he got it.”

”I extended as far as I could and the ball came down right on my finger tips,” Horton said. “I got just enough of my fingers on the ball so I could control it.”

The Bengals still had a chance, but Esiason was sacked for a 15-yard loss, killing their next drive. The Raiders answered with a time-consuming, 10-play drive that ended with a game-clinching 25-yard field goal by Jeff Jaeger with 19 seconds left.

5. Injuries hurt the Bengals offense: Left guard Bruce Reimers missed the game with a sprained ankle. Future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Munoz did not play because of a torn rotator cuff his left shoulder. Green didn’t get a carry because of an ankle injury. Running back James Brooks played with a dislocated thumb.

“We had a bunch of guys banged up and some who couldn’t play at all,” Wyche said, “but we saddled it up with what we had and played the Raiders, a championship team, one whale of a game.”

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