Bengals confident heading into playoffs

Taylor: Playoff drought doesn’t add motivation to current Cincy team.

The Cincinnati Bengals’ playoff losing streak started with the “Curse of Bo Jackson” and the Los Angeles Raiders more than three decades ago, and it comes full circle this weekend when they host the Las Vegas Raiders in a Super Wild Card game.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor isn’t oblivious to the noise, though he told reporters last week he had never heard about the Curse of Bo when asked about it. Most players on the team weren’t even alive on Jan. 13, 1991, when the Bengals let go of a lead in the fourth quarter and lost 20-10 in the divisional round of the 1990 playoffs.

Jackson had left with a hip injury in the third quarter and it ended up being career-ending. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since then.

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Now, the Bengals will try to change that narrative. They host the Raiders at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium, facing a team they already beat 32-13 earlier this season.

“There’s a lot of confidence from this group,” Taylor said after Sunday’s regular-season finale. “Sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know, and that can be a really good thing. You certainly can’t avoid some of the narrative that surrounds us sometimes with our playoff experience. But again, these guys don’t have that playoff experience. So there’s a lot of things they’ve done this year to change some of those things. And then this week will be no different. They don’t feel that pressure. They don’t think about that stuff at all. It’s more just stories and people maybe who have been here longer than we have talked about it. But I can promise you that it doesn’t have one effect on this football team and our approach going forward this week and how they’ll feel on game day.”

Taylor said the chance to end the drought and give the city its first playoff win in 31 years doesn’t add any motivation for his team because it’s been the goal all along. The Bengals are sitting right where they wanted to be.

The core group of players on this team weren’t with the Bengals during the 2015 season when they last made the playoffs, a meltdown loss to the Steelers, but many of them have big-game experience. Much of the defense was built around players that had been to the postseason with other teams, and even players like Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase bring championship experience from college that Taylor believes still translates in the NFL.

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“Because a lot of them have playoff experience whether it’s in the pros or in college, that’s very specific to the culture and kind of how we want to build this team,” Taylor said Monday. “That’s not to say that you’re not going to take great players that played for other college teams that weren’t in the playoffs but we’ve got a core group of guys that have been there and been in these types of moments before and that I think carries over to a lot of guys who haven’t been in those situations.

“And so again, this is what we’ve trained for all year. This is the moment you’re ready for. You don’t change your preparation this week. You don’t talk differently than we have in weeks past and our guys will be ready for the moment.”

The Bengals also have some confidence from their Week 11 win against the Raiders, a game that was close until Cincinnati scored 19 points in the fourth quarter.

Taylor said that game, coming off the bye week and two straight losses, “kick-started the momentum for the second half of the season.” The Bengals still had their struggles down the stretch but over the final few weeks seemed to hit their stride and now enter the playoffs at a high level, discounting Sunday’s loss at Cleveland in which almost every starter rested.

All seven active roster players that were on the Reserve/COVID-19 list were cleared Monday and are expected to be ready to go this week, including safety Vonn Bell, defensive end Trey Hendrickson, defensive tackles Larry Ogunjobi and B.J. Hill, center Trey Hopkins, running back Joe Mixon and guard Quinton Spain.

Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said the passing game especially has come a long way since that first meeting with Las Vegas, as evidenced by Burrow throwing for a combined 971 yards over the last two games he played.

That’s a big reason Cincinnati has high hopes.

“We went through a lull there in the middle part of the season that was the nature of the games we had to play and the teams we played against,” Callahan said. “Our passing game the last handful of weeks has stepped up and played well. Quarterbacks, receivers, protection, all those things go together. I’ve been pleased with that, that’s probably the biggest difference. Tee Higgins after the bye week is where Tee emerged for a handful of weeks. To see him play as well as he has is probably something that wasn’t on tape as much prior. We’ve improved every week, our guys are better than they were eight weeks ago. It’s exciting to show up in the playoffs and play a team you played half a season ago and see where you’re at.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Raiders at Bengals, 4:30 p.m., NBC, Peacock, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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