TDBH:Bah, humbug: Bengals’ bid to repeat as AFC champs denied in season finale

Posted Dec 24, 2017

This Day in Bengals History - December 25, 1989

MINNEAPOLIS – Left for play-off dead after last week’s 61-7 win over Houston, everything the Bengals need to happen on the last Sunday of the season happens. All they need to do to make the playoffs and earn a chance to repeat their AFC championship is beat the Vikings tonight in a special Christmas presentation of Monday Night Football. But it is the Vikings that end up winning the NFC Central with a 29-21 victory that ends one of the most frustrating Bengals’ seasons ever at 8-8. Beginning the season as swaggering AFC Central favorites after missing out on a Super Bowl title by 34 seconds, the Bengals are the only division team not to make the playoffs. Quarterback Boomer Esiason, who pulls the Bengals to within 22-21 on his third touchdown pass of the night with 8:49 left offers the season’s benediction. Too immature to win. And tonight is a microcosm of a deeply talented team’s season-long struggle with mistakes. At the end of a season they win games by 61-7, 56-23, 41-10, and 42-7, they fall behind, 19-0, on the way to committing five turnovers and 10 penalties. “We’re going to get away from the game for a little bit,” says head coach Sam Wyche, “but then we’re going to get ready. The mistakes we made aren’t going to be repeated.”

Esiason, beautifully desperate, flings them back in it on 31 of 52 passing for 365 yards and when running back Craig Taylor bulls over two defenders to reach the end zone on his 18-yard touchdown catch, the Bengals need a defensive play down by just 22-21 and nearly nine minutes left. But their two gifted cornerbacks, Eric Thomas and Lewis Billups, commit crushing penalties on Minnesota’s ensuing drive. It doesn’t help they don’t have Pro Bowl safety David Fulcher, having a monster year, after he leaves the second quarter injured. But it’s magnified when Thomas is called for roughing after he  pushes wide receiver Anthony Carter out of bounds on a 15-yard gain to give up 15 more. Then on second-and-16 Billups is called for holding wide receiver Hassan Jones and when he rips off his helmet to argue he gets flagged again. Moments later Wade Wilson flips a one-yard TD pass with about four minutes left to end it. “It was a mistake on my part,” Thomas says. “You’ve got to keep your poise better than that. It won’t happen again.”

Jack Brennan of The Cincinnati Post later discovers that by outscoring foes by 404-285, the Bengals’ plus-119 point differential is the biggest for any team in history without a winning record. Wyche says they have a lot of work left. “We just had a graduate course in getting back to the Super Bowl,” he says. “Now we’ve graduated.”



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