Everybody keeps saying the running game is dead in the NFL.
But in Cincinnati's last two playoff losses at Paul Brown Stadium four years apart, the foes barely threw the ball when the Bengals offense struggled to take control of the game and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's two highest-ranked defenses got hurt.
On Sunday in the 27-10 loss to the Chargers in a wild card game at sold-out Paul Brown Stadium, the NFL's third-ranked defense allowed 196 yards on the ground and quarterback Philip Rivers threw 16 passes and completed 12 in his eighth playoff start. In the 2009 wild card game against the Jets, rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez threw 15 passes and completed 12 in his first postseason start while the Jets rushed for 171 yards against the NFL's fourth-ranked defense.
And, it was the same deal in the 2011 wild card in Houston when another rookie quarterback, T.J. Yates, beat the Bengals on just 20 throws while the Texans rushed for 188 yards on 35 carries against the NFL's No. 7 defense. Some of the biggest runs came late, when the game was done and the defense was spent. Ronnie Brown's 58-yarder came with 2:17 left on Sunday. Arian Foster's 42-yard touchdown in 2011 came with 5:15 left. No defense played better last year, when the Bengals held the Texans to 10 points despite being on the field nearly 40 minutes.
On Sunday, Cincinnati's vaunted PBS pressure never got to Rivers after WILL backer Vontaze Burfict and nickel back Chris Crocker split a sack on Crocker's blitz on the first third down of the game.
"It's hard to get a good rush on them when they're not throwing," said defensive tackle Domata Peko.
The Bengals held opponents to 23 percent on third down at PBS in the regular season and on Sunday the Chargers, the top offense in the NFL converting third downs, were only 33 percent. But the Bengals were worse (25 percent) and throw in four turnovers and the '85 Bears don't win.
"The way Philip Rivers is, he likes to step into the pocket," said right end Michael Johnson. "My plan was to bull (rush) my guy (6-9 King Dunlap) and make him throw out of a well. I feel like we did that. I don't know many yards they had passing. I'm sure it wasn't a lot. They got (one TD pass and a 33-yard bomb) off play-action. They kept hitting us on the damn draw. When you can't stop the run, they're going hit you with that. The same thing that Houston did last year and the year before."
Peko said it could have been a matter of guys trying to do too much.
"Sometimes when you're trying to win the game, you're trying to do too much," Peko said. "In the system we play here, you just have to do your job. It comes down to doing your job.
"I think we had a lot of opportunities to win the game that we didn't take advantage of. That's the sad part about it."
TO THE RESCUE: Sunday's numbers didn't reflect, but the defense saved the offense yet again following four turnovers. The Chargers could only manage two punts and two field goals, even though they got the ball on the Bengals 46 and 3. But no surprise there. That was a season-long trend.
Coming into the game the Bengals had 30 turnovers this season, three for touchdowns. Of those 27 remaining drives, the Bengals forced 12 punts while allowing just five touchdowns and nine field goals, as well as a missed field goal. A total of 17 of those drives started at the Bengals 47 or closer and only three went for TDs. One TD drive started at the Bengals 11, another at the Bengals 1, and the other one, from the Bengals 36, was surrendered after the first drive of the season.