The Washington Nationals finally ended years of postseason misery by upsetting the Los Angeles Dodgers on the road in Game 5 of the NLDS on Wednesday night. It was the first ever series victory for the team since moving to Washington in 2005, and going back to the team’s Montreal days, their first playoff series victory since 1981!
The Nationals of course have come agonizingly close in recent years, losing in four NLDS appearances from 2012-2017, including three deciding Game 5 defeats.
But now that the Nats’ streak is over, and the Capitals lifted the Stanley Cup a couple years ago, Washington, D.C. is no longer the center of the universe when it comes to postseason defeats and droughts. No, there’s a new city that we have to look towards as the king of American postseason misery that stands out above (or below) them all.
That city is Cincinnati. Two Ns, one T, and lots and lots of painful Ls.
With the Nats’ victory over the Dodgers, the Queen City has the dubious distinction of being the current host to the longest playoff losing streak in Major League Baseball AND the National Football League.
The Bengals last won an NFL playoff game in 1990, besting the Lions and Browns. That was a 41-14 victory over the Houston Oilers in a Wild Card game. Boomer Esiason threw for 2 TDs and ran for another while Ickey Woods (!!!) also ran for a score. They lost in the Divisional Round to the Raiders.
The Reds last won an MLB playoff series in 1995, three years further back than the Padres. In the NLDS, the Reds swept the Dodgers 3-0 before being swept themselves by the Braves 4-0. Shortstop and future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin was the National League MVP.
— Brandon Saho (@BrandonSaho) October 10, 2019
The respective droughts have happened very differently over the years. From the Reds’ perspective, the team has struggled to maintain any consistent level of relevance since the early 1990s. In that timeframe since 1995, the Reds have only reached 90 wins four times and only made the postseason three times (2010, 2012, 2013). But the team is now slipping further and further away from the playoffs – the last four years have arguably been the worst for the Reds since the early 1930s having lost 98, 94, 94, and 95 games respectively.
As for those playoff defeats, they came with their own unique indignities. In 2010, the Reds gave up only the second no-hitter in postseason history to Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the NLDS. They only managed to score four runs in a three-game sweep. In 2012, the first-place, 97-win Reds won the first two games in San Francisco against the Giants. They then somehow managed to lose three consecutive games at home in Cincinnati to blow the series. The Reds haven’t even won a postseason game at Great American Ballpark since it opened in 2003. Finally, the Reds fell in the 2013 NL Wild Card Game to the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, the Reds haven’t sniffed the postseason since, and given the consistent strength of the NL Central, it looks like an uphill climb for years to come.
The Bengals’ playoff streak may be even more painful. At least the Reds have the glory days of the Big Red Machine and their 1990 championship to lean on. And while the Reds have had plenty of lean seasons in between, the Bengals enjoyed their most consistent stretch of success throughout the 2010s. And yet somehow a combination of terrible injuries, terrible play, and terrible decision-making has prevented them from notching that elusive win.
It was fifteen years between playoff appearances when the Bengals hosted the Steelers in 2005. That 31-17 defeat will always be remembered for Carson Palmer’s devastating knee injury in the first quarter, partly responsible for the ban on low hits on quarterbacks. Another home playoff game came in 2009 against the Jets and it was another 24-14 defeat. After a 4-12 season in 2010, the Bengals did something they’ve never done before – reel off five consecutive playoff appearances. From 2011-2015, the Bengals were 52-27-1 with two division titles.
First came back-to-back losses in Houston against the Texans, when Andy Dalton threw a combined no touchdown passes and four interceptions. T.J. Yates beat the Bengals in a playoff game if that tells you how bad those performances were. Those losses were followed by a home defeat to the Chargers and a loss on the road against the Colts. Finally came one of the most incompprehensible losses in any postseason in any sport in January 2016 against the Steelers.
In that infamous game, Cincinnati actually came from 15-0 down to take a 16-15 lead late into the fourth quarter. With the ball and under 2 minutes remaining, Bengals running back Jeremy Hill fumbled deep in Pittsburgh territory. The Bengals were still in decent shape when Pittsburgh had the ball at midfield with just 22 seconds left, when pandemonium broke loose.
Vontaze Burfict leveled Antonio Brown in the head for one 15-yard penalty. PacMan Jones then got into it with Steelers coach Joey Porter for another 15 yard penalty. On the very next play, Chris Boswell kicked the game winning field goal as the Bengals self-destructed. Who would’ve ever thought three years later that Brown and Burfict would reunite in Oakland before the 2019 season, and then leave in disgrace in two very different ways?
Much like the Reds, the Bengals now seem further away from the postseason than any time in recent memory. The team is currently winless, fighting it out with the Dolphins and Redskins for the mantra of worst team in the NFL.
On the bright side, Cincinnati now has a third major professional sports team in FC Cincinnati of Major League Soccer to try to end the postseason drought. As an expansion team, their playoff winless streak only extends for the one year they’ve been in existence at the MLS level. They also just happened to set the record for most goals allowed in an MLS season.