The epitaph for the 2012 Cincinnati Bengals says something like this.
“Succeeded to a point. Gone too soon in 2013.”
The Bengals aren’t there yet.
This isn’t the place to go blow-by-blow, nor is is the time to dissect the future. That future is still bright. The Bengals have big-time players in place.
They didn’t beat Houston on Saturday because Andy Dalton didn’t play well. The offense, in general, didn’t play well enough. Arian Foster was tough to tackle, and too many times Matt Schaub had too much time to throw.
Jermaine Gresham dropped too many passes, A.J. Green got zero first-half targets and one that might have won the game on third down in the closing minutes for Green was overshot by Dalton.
It summed up the day.
The Bengals go on extended vacation as a 10-6, second-place team. They won seven of their last eight regular-season games, rescuing a season that was headed nowhere — and fast. These Bengals have made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 30 years, and winning in Pittsburgh in Week 16 to do is also not just an accomplishment, but a step.
But not the biggest one. Marvin Lewis still hasn’t won a playoff game. These Bengals are now 0-for-2 in early January in Houston.
This team — this young core, these players — has a chance to have much brighter days ahead. For now, though, disappointment lingers. The Bengals could have won a playoff game, and they just didn’t play well enough to do it.