Finally (and mercifully), after 3 decades, the Bengals have qualified the playoffs in consecutive seasons. It's really an incredible stat, but only after you consider the Bengals haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season.
This past Sunday could not have been any more fortuitous for the Bengals. A Chuck Pagano-inspired Colts team knocked off the staggering Houston Texans...which fueled the Pats and Broncos to body slam their inferior opponents with first-round byes on the line. The best possible matchup fell right into the Bengals lap, and they head back to Houston...same day, same time...for a shot at redemption.
Paul Daugherty had it right in his December 31st column, this franchise MUST win a playoff game to be considered legit. A loss would put the Bengals right back where they started in January 2012.
The Steelers game on December 23rd was truly a defining moment for Marvin Lewis and his Carson-less/Chad-less band of 53. It wasn't just another game - it encaputlated everything that Lewis wanted to stand for after his staredown with Mike Brown two years ago.
It's the reason Lewis tried the ridiculous 56-yard field goal at Heinz Field (no wonder Bane wanted to blow up the turf). He knew how badly this franchise, this city (and Lewis himself) needed this game. To banish the Steelers to the off-season while securing a playoff berth. Even more than that - he learned after NOT kicking a long field goal in much more favorable conditions in Denver last season..he wasn't exactly giving his team a vote of confidence.
Much like Roy McAvoy in Tin Cup - Lewis just went for it. While it might not have been the most savvy football decision - it was more about what that decision represented. He believed in this team - these were truly his guys - and he knew that EVERYONE associated with the Bengals (himself included) needed this game. It's hard to keep a young team unified in one direction if you beat up on the Raiders and Chiefs...yet always fall short in the big games.
Now we take it up a notch in this Saturday's playoff game against Houston. It's all about second chances. Chris Crocker can catch that interception this time (the difference between a 17-17 game and a 24-10 lead for Houston), Andy Dalton can make up for three interceptions, and Marvin Lewis can finally deliver a playoff win in his fourth attempt. The Texans are a mess, falling all the way to a 3-seed when the top spot in the AFC was a near certainty three weeks ago.
Too much happens year to year in the NFL to take anything for granted. Based on the way this organizaiton continues to be run, who knows when the Bengals will have this opportunity again. It's time for this franchise to demand a winner in January. Failure isn't an option.