CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals are missing out on the playoffs for the first time in six years because they couldn't close out games - thanks mainly to the worst fourth-quarter offense in the NFL.
The trend started with their playoff meltdown against the Steelers last January and continued right through this season to Sunday's 24-20 come-from-ahead loss at Paul Brown Stadium.
Cincinnati has scored only 51 points in the fourth quarter this season, an average of 3.6 that is the worst in the NFL. The winless Cleveland Browns are second-to-last.
"That's been our Achilles' heel all season — not finishing in the fourth quarter," running back Jeremy Hill said.
"I don't have the answers, but we have to find a way to finish these close games," tight end Tyler Eifert said.
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The coaching and the roster will come under scrutiny in the offseason. Coach Marvin Lewis is under contract through 2017. He got a one-year extension after last January's playoff loss to the Steelers left him with the worst postseason coaching record in NFL history at 0-7.
The offense has struggled under first-year coordinator Ken Zampese, especially in the second half of games. The Bengals haven't scored a TD in the fourth quarter of their last six games. That's 90 minutes.
During that stretch, the Bengals have managed three field goals and a safety in the fourth quarter while going 2-4 and getting eliminated from contention.
The loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday was especially telling. The Steelers' defense clamped down in the second half, and the Bengals weren't able to figure out a way to move the ball.
Also, the defense got shoved around, allowing Pittsburgh to hold onto the ball for the final 5:53 with a 13-play drive.
"They came in after halftime and made some adjustments and they stopped us," receiver Brandon LaFell said. "Every time we needed to get a first down, we couldn't pick it up."
The offensive line struggled much of the season — Andy Dalton was among the league leaders in getting sacked — and the starting defense was among the oldest in the league.
"We failed in a bunch of ways that hurt us," Lewis said on Monday. "We didn't protect the quarterback early on well enough. We gave up explosive plays on defense early in the season. All of those things we can look back to as to why we are where we are. We never got it all the way turned around enough."
NOTES: The Bengals play at Houston (8-6) on Saturday night, a place where they've had some of their worst playoff moments. They lost playoff games in Houston to end their 2011 and 2012 seasons. The Texans came to Paul Brown Stadium last season and won 10-6, ending the Bengals' 8-0 start. ... Lewis said there's a chance that WR A.J. Green could play. He has missed the past four games with a strained right hamstring. ... Lewis won't give his young players additional time with the Bengals out of contention. "My thought is to win these next two football games with the best players we can put out there to play," Lewis said. "That's what we owe to everybody. This isn't junior high school."