Sports Illustrated has put out a piece on the “Biggest gut-punch loss” for each and every franchise, the Bengals included.
The game that the author the piece, Doug Farrar, picked is one everyone recalls – a game that saw the Bengals be oh-so-close to winning a championship.
Cincinnati Bengals: Jan. 22, 1989, Super Bowl XXIII—49ers 20, Bengals 16
Bengals coach Sam Wyche was Bill Walsh’s offensive assistant in San Francisco before Paul Brown tapped him to become the Bengals’ head coach in 1985. And between Wyche’s inventive mind and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s zone blitz schemes, the Bengals were game to win this thing. But fortune was against them from the start. Wyche had to bench running back Stanley Wilson the night before the game due to drug issues, and defensive lineman Tim Krumrie suffered one of the most garish broken legs in NFL history early in the contest. The Bengals didn’t score an offensive touchdown in the game, but went up 13–6 in the third quarter on the wings of Stanford Jennings’s 93-yard kickoff return. Then, after a Joe Montana-to-Jerry Rice touchdown tied the game, Cincinnati kicker Jim Breech put the Bengals back on top with less than four minutes left.
And as Wyche has said so many times since, that was too much time to give Walsh and Montana, who carved Cincinnati’s defense up on a masterful 92-yard drive. Wyche knew it was coming, as he’d coached Montana long enough to know what he was capable of. It seemed fated that this gut-punch for the Bengals would go Montana’s way.