2005 was the team's first season with a winning record, playoff berth, and division title since 1990. In the fourteen years and 224 games in between (1991–2004), the Bengals' record was 71–153, a 0.317 winning percentage. It would be the Bengals' lone playoff appearance in a span of 18 years (1991–2008). QB Carson Palmer got off to a strong start on his way to a solid 3836 yard season with 32 Touchdown passes, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. Receiving many of Palmer's passes was Chad Johnson, who followed teammate Palmer to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, racking up an impressive 1,432 yards in receiving with nine TDs, many of which were followed by unique celebrations that made him a regular star on the spots highlight shows.
Following a 42–29 win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Bengals faced the Steelers again this time in Pittsburgh, where the Bengals offense continued to fly behind Carson Palmer who had three Touchdown passes and 227 yards passing in an impressive 38–31 win that gave the Bengals first place in the AFC North at 9–3. The Bengals would not relinquish first place winning the next two games to clinch the division with two weeks to go. On December 18, with a 41–17 win over the Detroit Lions, the Bengals clinched a playoff spot. After clinching the division the Bengals played cautiously and dropped their final two games to finish with an 11–5 record, beating out the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers, who finished with an identical record, on a tiebreaker situation.
On January 8, 2006, the Cincinnati Bengals took on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the opening round of the playoffs making it the Bengals first playoff appearance of the decade. Disaster started early for the Bengals when Steelers lineman Kimo von Oelhoffen dove at Bengals quarterback (Carson Palmer)'s knee, resulting in a tear of his ACL (Anterior cruciate ligament). Backup quarterback Jon Kitna took over and did very well, giving Cincinnati leads of 10–0 and 17–7 at points of the game. All seemed well for the Bengals until the Steelers came back with 24 unanswered points and knocked the Cincinnati Bengals out of the playoffs with a final score of 31–17.
Carson Palmer's first six starts of the season, combined with his last three starts of 2004, made him only the second passer in NFL history to post nine straight games with a passer rating of 100 or more (Peyton Manning, 2004)
Carson Palmer led the NFL in three major passing categories – TD passes (32), completion percentage (67.8) and TD-INT differential (32–12)