CINCINNATI (AP) - A win over equally downtrodden Oakland ended the Bengals’ five-game losing streak, but it couldn’t prevent them from being eliminated from the postseason for a third straight year.
Their final two weeks will amount to playing it out before addressing the franchise’s overriding question.
Will coach Marvin Lewis be back for a 17th chance?
The Bengals (6-8) ended their third-longest losing streak under Lewis with a 30-16 victory over the Oakland Raiders in front of another sparse crowd at Paul Brown Stadium. They were eliminated from postseason contention when the AFC North-leading Steelers beat the Patriots later Sunday.
For the third straight season, they’re out of playoff contention, matching their longest streak under Lewis. They also missed out from 2006-08.
Lewis was still digging the franchise out of its losing ways back then. The fans’ expectations are much higher now.
Cincinnati set a club record by going to the playoffs five straight seasons from 2011-15. The Bengals set an NFL record by losing in the first round all five times, leaving Lewis 0-7 in the playoffs overall - also a league record for futility.
Since a playoff meltdown against the Steelers that ended their 2015 season, they’ve been on the decline. So has attendance.
The Bengals averaged 50,753 fans in their 65,515-seat stadium, the second-lowest mark since it opened in 2000. They’ve had the second-smallest attendance overall in the NFL the past two seasons. Only the Los Angeles Chargers have drawn fewer fans at their small, temporary home field.
“I have no control over that,” Lewis said.
Actually, the empty seats are a reaction to the franchise’s decision to stay the course even as the Bengals’ streak without a playoff victory keeps getting longer. Their last playoff victory came during the 1990 season against the Houston Oilers.
They’ve gone 28 years and counting since that win, tied with the Washington Redskins (1944-71) for the fifth-longest streak of futility in NFL history.
Owner Mike Brown has stayed with Lewis despite the club’s inability to get a playoff win or fill the stadium. The Bengals fired their offensive coordinator last season and their defensive coordinator this season without making headway. Lewis took over as defensive coordinator after firing Teryl Austin midseason, but Cincinnati’s implosion continued unabated.
A 4-1 start gave them a comfortable early lead atop the division. The collapse started when Pittsburgh rallied for a 28-21 victory at Paul Brown Stadium on Oct. 14. Antonio Brown turned a short catch into a 31-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left , and the Bengals’ implosion had begun.
They lost star players on offense, including Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, and the defense became the first in the Super Bowl era to allow 500 yards in three straight games. Austin was fired after a 51-14 loss to New Orleans, and fired Browns head coach Hue Jackson was hired to help with the defense.
But the losing went on until Sunday, when it was too late to matter.
As they get ready for a rematch Sunday in Cleveland (6-7-1), the Bengals are reduced to playing spoiler to Cleveland’s slim playoff hopes. The Bengals haven’t finished last in the AFC North since 2010, when they went 4-12 and the Browns were 5-11. That’s the only time during Lewis’ tenure that they’ve finished at the bottom.
A loss in Cleveland would clinch last place.
The Bengals conclude the season in Pittsburgh, and then consider who will be in charge in 2019 - a question Lewis isn’t ready to address.
“This isn’t next year,” he said Monday. “This is this year and we’ve got to focus on the Cleveland Browns.”
BOYD UPDATE: Lewis said there was no new medical information about receiver Tyler Boyd, who hurt his right knee late in the first half against the Raiders and didn’t return. Boyd said the injury isn’t season-ending, but it’s unclear if he’ll be available against Cleveland.
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