CINCINNATI — Defensive end Carlos Dunlap couldn’t resist having a little fun. He reached his large right hand into the group of reporters interviewing Bengals running back Giovani Bernard and rubbed his thumb and forefinger together.
Yeah, Bernard has more money as part of his three-year contract extension through 2019. He still doesn’t have a playoff win, though, and that’s the most interesting part of the Bengals’ strategy.
They’ve kept the core of the team intact despite losing first-round playoff games each of the last five seasons, an NFL record. No other team has lost more than three first-round games in a row. The Bengals are 0-7 under Marvin Lewis, which is an NFL record for a coach. They haven’t won a playoff game in 25 years, the sixth-longest streak of postseason futility in league history.
And each year, they try to make the breakthrough with essentially the same group of players. In a league where roster change is the norm, the Bengals put most of their free agent money into staying with what they’ve got.
“Not all teams are that way, so I feel very fortunate to play for an organization that is that way,” said quarterback Andy Dalton, who’s on his second contract in Cincinnati. “The guys that have gotten second contracts on this team are guys that they have drafted. It’s cool to see an organization that does that.”
The Bengals are in the midst of an unprecedented run of regular-season success for the franchise. No other Bengals team has reached the playoffs five years in a row. They won 12 games last season, tying the club record. But they then frittered away a late lead and lost to Pittsburgh 18-16 in a playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium.
It was one of the worst meltdowns in NFL playoff history. Jeremy Hill’s fumble gave Pittsburgh one last chance, and personal fouls on linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones after an incompletion moved the Steelers into range for the winning field goal.
Cincinnati’s response was to keep things the same. Burfict is back, although he’ll sit out the first three games as a suspension from the league for his numerous illegal hits. Jones got a contract extension.
There will be a new safety, a new right tackle, and two new receivers this season. Otherwise, they’re going with what gets them to the playoffs but so far hasn’t gotten them any farther.
“There’s a little bit of unfinished business that we want to get past,” Bernard said.
During the 1990s, the Bengals were known for changing quarterbacks regularly and failing to win many games. They’ve become consistently good enough to get to the playoffs, but not good enough to do anything more.
They’re sticking with what gets them there.
“The message is that if you put your head down and go to work, then good things will happen,” Lewis said of Bernard’s extension. “We’ll continue to work on (extensions for) some other players between now and the beginning of the season. Hopefully, we get some more done.”
NOTES: Mike Zimmer will spend a few days in town with his Minnesota Vikings during training camp. The Vikings will practice with the Bengals on Aug. 10-11 leading up to their preseason game at Paul Brown Stadium on the 12th. Last year, the Giants worked out with the Bengals for a couple of days in Cincinnati before a preseason game. Zimmer was the Bengals’ defensive coordinator from 2008-13 before getting hired as the Vikings’ head coach. “I still talk to him a lot,” said Paul Guenther, who was promoted to the coordinator job. “I learned a lot from him. We were real close in our personal relationship as well. I’m excited that we get to work together in two days of practice.”
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