Since Marvin Lewis' arrival in Cincinnati, the Bengals have played in some huge games, including playoff games. This weekend's game against the Baltimore Ravens is huge and will go down as one of the most important games in the team's history. If they beat the Ravens in Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday afternoon, they're in the playoffs, but if they lose, they're out.
Heading into the 2011 season, most figured the Bengals would be one of the few teams to compete for the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. However, after going on a five-game winning streak in the middle of the season and after rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and rookie wide receiver A.J. Green have both thrown their hats in the ring for Offensive Rookie of the Year, the Bengals are in control of their own playoff destiny.
Where does this game stack up with some of the other huge games that the Bengals have played in through the last decade, though?
Playoff Game 2005: In 2005, the Bengals went to the playoffs for the first time since 1990. Through the lost decade of the '90s, the Bengals had lost so many fans but with Lewis' and Carson Palmer's arrival in Cincinnati brought many of them back and tons of new fans as well. The Bengals won the AFC North and hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in their first home playoff game since 1988. After completing a huge pass to Chris Henry down the right sideline, Carson Palmer's knee was blown out by Kimo von Oelhoffen and went he went out, the Bengals hope at a playoff victory went out the window.
Week 16 2006: The Bengals traveled to Denver for their Week 16 game against the Broncos. They had an 8-6 record and had a clear shot at the playoffs. The Bengals and Broncos exchanged leads throughout the game and with the Bengals trailing by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Palmer found T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the end zone for a potential game-tying touchdown. The Bengals were unable to convert the extra point as the snap to holder Kyle Larson went through his hands. The Bengals attempted an onside kick but failed. They could have gone to the playoffs with a win.
Week 17 2006: After the loss in Denver, the Bengals returned home to face the Steelers. They had another shot to head to the playoffs. If they won they were in as a wild card team with a 9-7 record, if they lost, they were out. The Bengals had a shot to take down the Steelers in the finals minutes of regulation. They two teams were tied at 17 when Shayne Graham had a short field goal attempt that could have won the Bengals the game but he missed wide right. The Bengals and Steelers went to overtime and in the Steelers' first possession, Ben Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes on a 67-yard touchdown pass ending the game and the Bengals' playoff hopes.
Week 9 2009: The Bengals had already defeated the Steelers, Ravens and Browns once so far in 2009 and looked like they may go to the playoffs again, this time as a completely different team. The Bengals faced the Ravens for the second time that season this time at home. The Bengals scored 17 points in the first half against the Ravens and kept the Ravens off the scoreboard. Baltimore wasn't able to score until the fourth quarter on a Ray Rice touchdown run. This win likely sealed the Bengals' playoff berth in 2009. They went 10-6 that season and the Ravens went 9-7. If the Bengals had lost that game, things could have played out very differently.
Playoff Game 2009: The Bengals went to the playoffs for the second time in four years. They had transformed into a power running team with a top-notch defense and hosted the New York Jets, a very similar team, in another home playoff game. The Bengals struck first with a touchdown pass from Palmer to Laveranues Coles but the Jets scored three straight touchdowns to take a lead that the Bengals were unable to come back from. There were some special teams miscues, especially in the kicking game, which didn't help the Bengals and led to Graham's eventual release. The Bengals lost to the Jets by a score of 24-14.
Week 17 2011: The Bengals are heading into Week 17 in control of their own destiny, partly in thanks to a Jets Week 16 loss to the Giants. All the stars have aligned for the Bengals to head back to the playoffs for the third time since 2005, all they have to do is beat the Ravens to get there. The Bengals almost came back to beat the Ravens in Week 11 but thanks to an overturned touchdown by Jermaine Gresham, they fell short. The Ravens are still playing for the AFC North championship, a home playoff game and a possible first-round bye.
So, where does Sunday's game line up with the other big games from recent past?