(SportsNetwork.com) - Common sense says the Cincinnati Bengals shouldn't have won Sunday but that hardly makes it easier for a franchise that hasn't tasted victory in the postseason in nearly a quarter of a century.
When the Bengals trotted on the field in Indianapolis in advance of what turned out to be a 26-10 wild-card setback against Andrew Luck and the Colts, they were without their two top pass catchers in the regular season, All-Pro- level receiver A.J. Green, who failed to pass the NFL's concussion protocol, and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who was unable to go with back and leg issues despite taking an epidural.
When you're facing off with Luck, the leader of the NFL's third-ranked offense who just broke Peyton Manning's franchise record for passing yards in a single season with 4,761, that's like bringing a knife to a gunfight.
After all, the dual absences were just adding to the lengthy list of weapons the much-maligned Andy Dalton was without.
Marvin Jones, who burst onto the scene with 10 touchdown catches as Green's running mate in 2013, missed the entire year for the Bengals with ankle and foot injuries, while emerging tight end Tyler Eifert played all of eight snaps in the season opener against Baltimore before dislocating his elbow in what turned out to be another season-ending blow.
An offense that figured to enter the '14 season as one of the NFL's explosive if only Dalton could carry his own water had no outside the numbers threats against Indy and was forced to rely on little-used running back Rex Burkhead as a hybrid H-back/slot role.
The results were predictable.
Luck threw for 376 yards and a touchdown with a 104.0 passer rating while Dalton had just 155 yards on 18-of-35 passing with a 63.4 rating, actually an improvement over his dismal 56.8 career postseason rating coming in.
"We got depleted. They fought their tail off and came up short," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of his charges. "We have to keep working to knock down that door."
The built-in excuses could make the Bengals feel a little better about themselves but they aren't going to change the reality of the situation.
And here's the hard truth in Cincinnati -- Lewis has now coached 198 NFL games for the Bengals without piloting his team to a postseason win, an ongoing league record, while Dalton is now 0-4 as a starting QB in the playoffs and has never thrown a postseason pass with the lead.
"I thought (Dalton) played OK," Lewis said. " We have to make more plays around him."
For the veteran coach's supporters, it's more than fair to put a little context to those numbers because the Bengals aren't exactly a franchise steeped in a winning tradition.
Lewis is the man responsible for six of the organization's paltry 13 postseason appearances over 47 years. Dalton, meanwhile, has been there for the last four setbacks since taking over the team in '11 as a second-round pick out of TCU.
A glass-is-half-full person might point to the fact that this was the franchise- record fourth straight postseason appearance for the Bengals but the glass-is-half-empty types want results and they are now the significant majority in the Queen City.
Lewis has been the head man in Cincinnati since the 2003 season and has earned 100 career regular-season wins but he's now 0-6 in the postseason, losing to Pittsburgh after the '05 season, as well as the New York Jets ('09), Houston Texans ('11 and '12), San Diego ('13) and now Indianapolis.
"My plan is to be back," Lewis said. "I don't know any other way but to work our way back."
Continuity is almost always better than the alternative in the NFL but even the most stable and consistent of organizations have to be cognizant of shelf life.
And if you check the expiration level on Lewis, it should read Jan. 4, 2015.