Jeremy Hill had no room to work Sunday.
INDIANAPOLIS - All you need to know about this one is the Bengals got their biggest play from a transplanted running back playing wide receiver.
Their 26-10 loss to the Colts in yet another AFC Wild Card Game at Lucas Oil Stadium proved the Bengals just didn't have enough gas to get that elusive first play-off victory for Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
Quarterback Andy Dalton was good enough to get the Bengals into the playoffs without ever having this year starting wide receiver Marvin Jones and tight end Tyler Eifert. But he wasn't good enough to win a post-season game without also four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham.
And the Bengals are now the first team in history to lose four straight Wild Card Games.
"Eventually teams are going to match you and you have to have an answer,' said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "Today we didn't have an answer and never made a big play."
The Bengals never made a play because they had a lack of speed at wide receiver and the Colts suffocated the running game again just like they did in the 27-0 Oct. 19 game because they were able to turn the game into a closet by sitting on the routes with no fear of Green and a vertical game.
Mohamed Sanu, his No. 1 receiver, had one catch after the first quarter and finished with three for 31 yards.
"I don't know," said Sanu when asked where the passing game went. "They played all kinds of coverages (not just man). They have really good DBs over there and a good defensive line and a great pass rush. We just didn't execute the way we should have."
Dalton goes into another offseason shrouded in red-hot criticism. For the third time in his fourth play-off game he didn't throw a touchdown pass and he had his lowest completion percentage in the postseason at barely 50 percent, 18 of 35, with his second fewest yards at 155. He had a shot to make a big play just after the Colts went up, 20-10, but his flea flicker, briefly available to wide receiver Brandon Tate down the middle, couldn't get over the arms of Colts cornerback Greg Toler.
And when it was third-and-four from the Bengals 48 and the Bengals were down, 13-7, late in the first half, he had Sanu open inside the Colts 30 on the left sideline and overthrew him.
Or should he get ripped?
Running back Rex Burkhead was his big receiver with that 26-yard slant, and another wide receiver, Cobi Hamilton was playing in his first NFL game. His lead tight end was an undrafted rookie. His best weapon was rookie running back Jeremy Hill, who couldn't get out of the closet because there was no threat of the pass and the Colts had 10 guys within five yards of him.
And for the fifth straight play-off game, the defense gave up a big number, in part, because the offense couldn't stay on the field. In the previous four games it had been a big rushing number. This time it was 376 yards from Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, the most ever against the Bengals in the postseason, on the way to 482 total yards
"I felt like there were some good things out there, but I didn't play good enough," Dalton said. "That's what it comes down to. I got to do more. I got to push our guys to do more but it all starts with me."
Whitworth, the de facto offensive captain suffering his fifth straight post-season loss, continues to stand by his locker room, calling it one of great character. But he realizes the gap between winning and losing.
"I just know as an offense in the playoff and big games, you have to have the huge plays to win and whether that is throwing it or catching it or running it, it's going to have to happen," Whitworth said. "You see it every week. You see the top guys that take over games and lead their team to a victory."
Hill, the NFL's leading rusher for the past seven weeks, carried just four times for eight yards in the last three quarters (and finished with 47 yards on 13 carries) as the Colts inexorably made the running game irrelevant by expanding the lead with chunk plays from Luck.
"It's going to be an uphill battle," Whitworth said. "When you don't have any tight ends and you have to use linemen, now you make it obvious (it's a run play) and they can roll to you even more because they're not really worried about (guard Mike) Pollak and (tackle Marshall) Newhouse catching passes. You're trying to knock them off and play high school football a little bit.
"If you're playing defense and you're playing against an offense that just lost its top weapons before the game, we're just fighting our tails off as an offensive line."
Dalton needs weapons. Luck is the weapon.
"We didn't sustain enough drives in the second half. We were on three-and-out and their offense stayed on the field and controlled the clock," Hill said. "When you don't do that, you obviously don't set yourself up for success. That's what happens. We've just, I've just got to do a better job in the run game and help our team."
Hill, who last carried early in the third quarter with Colts draped all over him, put the blame on himself.
"I didn't break enough tackles. If you look at some of those runs I made guys miss," said Hill, who had an 18-yard run to set up his tying one-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. "I just got to the second level. That's something I didn't do in the second half. It's just up to me making guys miss. We're not going to block everybody. It's on me.
"It's nothing new for me. I've been seeing that my entire life, especially being a running back," said Hill of the stuffed box. "That's nothing new to me. I've seen it in college and even this year. I just got to do a better job of making guys miss and helping our team win."
There were the usual rounds of questions after a season, one of those deadly losses where the only thing you can hear are the showers. Some, like Sanu, said something has to change. Others, like safety George Iloka, defended head coach Marvin Lewis. Whitworth said he was proud of the way his offensive line played.
"It's not like there has to be drastic change," Whitworth said. "You don't get to the playoffs four times in a row without doing something right."
Lewis, with a contract for 2015, said he planned to return but hinted at other changes.
"The only way to do it is just at some point whoever it is, wherever it be, whatever it'll be they'll go back to work and put their heads down and work to kick the door down," Lewis said. "That's all you can do and there's no other words about it."
Defensive lineman Robert Geathers, The Dean who has been here for all of Lewis' six losses in the postseason, is looking for reasons.
"I wish I knew," said Geathers, when asked what needs to be different. ""We would have had it done by now. I think everyone in the locker room wants it. The coaches prepare us well. I don't know if it's mental or what. We just have to find a way to get over the hump. If it was that easy to figure out what it was, we would have done it."
Lewis was asked if he felt the core of the team needed to be torn up again with the Green-Dalton Bengals not yet over the hump.
"I think we've got to be happy with the core, but obviously we got depleted," Lewis said. "That's part of it though and we've got to keep finding a way. I think guys got gained experience through this, and that's part of it. It's a learning experience for some to always be ready and move on, and move on to the next guy. We've done a good job of that, but today it wasn't quite enough for us."
Whitworth kept coming back to the locker room.
"I think anyone who's around this locker room knows that its tremendous," Whitworth said. "The group of guys, the way they work and all those things is tremendous. I think that there's nothing wrong with the character of this football team. In the big moments, our guys that are the big guys have to make the plays. You see it every week. If you look at the teams that win, their top guys make the plays to get them where they've got to go. It'll be no different here. When we get in big situations, our big players have to make huge plays."
But on this Wild Card Day, all of Dalton's big players, from A.J. to Eifert, couldn't help.
And Luck was the big player.