CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals finally exorcised the Curse of Bo Jackson. Now they face a more daunting quest - the dreaded road playoff game.
The Bengals are 0-9 in postseason history outside Cincinnati. That record includes seven playoff games on the road and their two Super Bowl appearances against the San Francisco 49ers at a neutral site - the first held in Detroit for Super Bowl 16 and the second in Miami for Super Bowl 23.
If the Bengals beat the Tennessee Titans on Saturday, it will be a first in the 54-year history of the franchise.
Before Saturday's game with the Titans, here's a trauma-inducing recap of each of those road playoff losses.
Cincinnati Bengals History of Playoff Road Woes
Cincinnati was the earliest expansion franchise in pro sports to make the playoffs. Paul Brown started the team in 1968, and made its first playoff in 1970. It was a historic accomplishment for a team in the years before free agency.
The franchise's first playoff game was against the Colts in Baltimore - the eventual Super Bowl winner - and their All-Multiverse squad featuring Johnny Unitas.
Unitas was only 6-of-17 for 145 yards, but threw two touchdown passes. The Colts defense - featuring Hall of Famers like Bubba Smith and Mike Curtis - smothered the Cincinnati offense and held them to a shutout.
Cincinnati was starting to come together as the unit fans would remember through the 70s and 80s. By 1973, Ken Anderson was the starting quarterback and Isaac Curtis was at receiver.
The Bengals traveled to Miami and faced the two-time Super Bowl champion Dolphins and Don Shula, who would end the season winning their third consecutive AFC title. It cemented Miami as one of the greatest teams in NFL history.
The Dolphins led 14-3 after the first quarter, but the Bengals came back in the second quarter and were down only 21-16 at half-time. The Dolphins defense took over in the second half, holding Cincinnati scoreless.
Cincinnati's playoff run against 1970s dynasties continued the next season against Oakland. But Madden's Raiders had their hands full.
The Bengals trailed 31-14 in the fourth quarter. But Ken Riley intercepted Ken Stabler to set up a comeback. Anderson threw two late touchdown passes to Charlie Joiner and Curtis, but Cincinnati ran out of time.
Anderson finished the game 17-of-27 for 201 yards and two touchdown passes, but was sacked five times. Despite the loss, the Bengals earned high praise from their Hall of Fame coach and owner.
"I've never been prouder of any football team than the Cincinnati team we brought in here today," Brown said after the game. "They never quit."
1982 Super Bowl 16: San Francisco 49ers 26, Cincinnati Bengals 21.
Thanks to a massive freeze across the country, and a match-up featuring two new teams, this was one of the most watched Super Bowls for decades. Both teams gave them something to watch.
The 49ers led 20-0 at halftime, and Anderson started to lead a magical comeback. The game was decided in the third quarter when Cincinnati had the ball 1st-and-goal from the four-yard-line. Three runs by Pete Johnson and a pass from Anderson to Charles Alexander were stuffed. The 49ers' goal-line stand is considered one of the greatest in NFL history.
Head coach Forest Gregg, an NFL Hall of Famer with the Green Bay Packers, would be questioned about his playcalling for the rest of his tenure with the Bengals. Two years later he was in Green Bay.
Anderson finished with 300 yards passing and two touchdown passes. His passing rating for the game set a record that stood for years. Tight end Dan Ross caught a record 12 receptions, and rookie Cris Collinsworth had over 100 yards receiving.
1989 Super Bowl 23: San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16.
Cincinnati started the season 8-0, then turned from a passing team to a running team with the emergence of rookie Ickey Woods. Woods and James Brooks were the most dynamic running back pairing in the NFL.
Quarterback Boomer Esiason was NFL MVP, the team had Pro Bowlers all over its offense and secondary. Coach Sam Wyche was innovative and controversial. Teams like the Buffalo Bills tried to ban his no-huddle offense in 1988 (then used it to get to the Super Bowl four consecutive seasons starting two years later in 1990).
But then Stanley Wilson happened.
Then Tim Krumrie.
Then John Candy.
Stanley Wilson was the third Bengals running back, and was getting more carries in the postseason. In the AFC Division playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks - who played a similar defensive scheme to San Francisco - he rushed for 45 yards and two touchdowns. He was never more featured on offense because of past drug issues. Wilson was suspended for the 1985 and 1987 seasons. His third strike was the night before the Super Bowl, when he was discovered by an assistant coach high on cocaine. He was banned from the league.
During the first quarter of the game, Cincinnati's All-Pro nose tackle Tim Krumrie broke two bones in his leg and had to be carted off the field. It was considered one of the most gruesome injuries in an NFL game. Krumrie was the best player among the Bengals front seven, and his absence was severely felt.
Then came John Candy: Cincinnati took a 16-13 lead after a 40-yard field goal by Jim Breech. On the following kickoff, San Francisco was called for a penalty, and were stuck on their own 8-yard-line with 3:20 left in the game. For the first time during the game, luck was on the Bengals side.
Legend has it, 49ers quarterback Joe Montana took the huddle at his own goalline before the drive and pointed to the stands. He asked the other players if that was movie star and comedian John Candy in the stands sitting in the front row back in the end zone.
The tension-breaker supposedly relaxed the offense, which drove 92 yards in 11 plays. Montana threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to receiver John Taylor with 32 seconds left. The Bengals tried or a miracle in the last 30 seconds, but it was ended when Charles Haley sacked Esiason.
At a time when most Super Bowls were blowouts, Super Bowl 23 was considered the best in the history of the game. The Bengals were praised for their heart - losing Wilson the night before the game and Krumrie during it - but almost pulling off the upset. An NFL Films recap of the game gave tribute to both teams, stating that it had no losers, only the victors and the vanquished. For Cincinnati, it didn't feel that way.
It was the last game San Francisco's Bill Walsh - a former Bengals assistant - ever coached in the NFL. It was the last game for Cris Collinsworth, one of the most beloved athletes in Cincinnati history, who retired during summer camp before the 1989 season.
A rebuilt Bengals team led by rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green made a surprising playoff run, which ended quickly in Houston. Dalton threw three interceptions and was sacked four times while Texans running back Arian Foster rushed 12 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
No one expected the Bengals to make the playoffs, especially with a rookie quarterback. Despite the rout, Cincinnati's future looked as sunny as any team in the NFL.
Dalton only threw one interception this game - but it was returned 21 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Green was targeted 11 times, but had only five catches. Foster rushed for 140 yards and one touchdown.
Second-season growing pains, right?
The Bengals were in the middle of their most successful postseason streak in franchise history - they had made the playoffs four consecutive years, and they would make it again the following year. They didn't win a single game.
Cincinnati hosted San Diego in the Wild Card playoffs the year before but lost. Against the Colts, it didn't get better: Dalton was abysmal passing 18-of-35 for 155 yards while Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck threw for 376 yards.
Doubts about Dalton and his ability against good teams in big games had been cemented. The defense made confusing penalties at crucial times. Cincinnati would lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers the following year after A.J. McCarron stepped in for the injured Dalton to try and salvage it.
NOW: The Bengals take on the Titans in Nashville. This is easily the best matchup the Bengals have had during a playoff road game since Super Bowl 16, and the Titans are a 3.5-point favorite. Every season the NFL has become more of a quarterback league. The Bengals have Joe Burrow. Tennessee has Ryan Tannehill. Advantage: Stripes.