TDBH: Bengals rout Oilers in Wild Card re-smash, face Raiders in AFC semi

Posted Jan 6, 2018

This Day in Bengals History - January 6, 1991

Two weeks after drilling the Oilers at home, 40-20, the Bengals return to Riverfront Stadium to rip their division rivals and open the AFC playoffs today with a 41-14 victory in a Wild Card re-smash. Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason does it all to lift his post-season record to 3-1 and undefeated at Riverfront when he draws up a play at halftime, is the game’s leading rusher with 57 yards and a TD, throws for two more TDs, and sets the scene for next week’s AFC semifinal in Los Angeles that is a re-match of last month’s Raiders’ win in The Coliseum. “They’ll have Jack Nicholson and James Garner and Emma Samms on the other sideline,” Esiason says of the glamorous Raiders. “We’ll be over there with our faded yellow pants. We’ll be standing there looking for autographs … The only guy we really have is Ray Combs, God bless him.” Combs, the Hamilton, Ohio native who is the star of the game show “Family Feud,” and the rest of Bengaldom celebrate a win that comes courtesy of head coach Sam Wyche taking the wraps off Esiason.

In a season-long trend Esiason throws just 20 times, but he is deadly efficient with 14 completions for 150 yards augmented by another overwhelming performance in the running game that racks up 187 yards on 44 carries. Two weeks ago it was running back James Brooks rushing for a club-record 201 yards. Today Brooks is lost with a broken thumb after six carries and it doesn’t matter even though the left side of the line, tackle Anthony Munoz and guard Bruce Reimers, is also lost during a game that turns out to be costly next week. “Sam called a perfect game. No question it was more open than it has been,” Esiason says.

Esiason puts in a play during the week designed to exploit Oilers rookie linebacker Lamar Lathon and Wyche runs it in on the game’s first snap. Esiason finds one of his five receivers out of an empty back-field, running back Stanford Jennings, for a 12-yard gain in the flat and the Bengals are off. After the game Esiason grabs a reporter’s notebook and shows him what he draws on the board at half-time unsolicited. Esiason and Wyche discuss “Grace Keeper Right,” on Friday and now Esiason convices him to run it late in the third quarter. Esiason executes his notorious play-action from the Houston 10, fakes to running back Eric Ball, rolls left, gets a block from tight end Eric Kattus, and scores his first rushing TD in two years to put the Bengals up 34-0. The quarterback play is what separates these heated rivals today. Oilers backup quarterback Cody Carlson, last week’s hero when he engineers a 34-14 win over Pittsburgh to put Houston in the playoffs, is useless against Bengals defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s pre-snap disguises that blow up the Oilers’ famed fast-paced Run-and-Shoot offense and the game is over before it starts.

Carlson, playing because Pro Bowler Warren Moon breaks his hand two weeks ago on the helmet of Bengals linebacker James Francis, completes just four of his first 13 passs for 35 yards and 25 come on two throws late in a first half the Bengals jump to a 20-0 lead. “It was just bump-and-run man-to-man. We should have been able to beat it,” says a disgusted Carlson. “I didn’t throw well. Things didn’t go well early and it snowballed.” The Bengals, who began the season so devastated at cornerback that they made two uncharacteristic trades for veteran corners Rod Jones and Carl Carter, reap the benefits when Eric Thomas comes back earlier than expected from the ACL he tore playing off-season basketball. The four-corner, physical defense (veteran Lewis Billups is the fourth) allows the Bengals to blanket Houston’s dangerous passing game and the emergence of long-time backup safety Barney Bussey now a starter alongside Pro Bowl safety David Fulcher gives LeBeau more flexibility  now that Fulcher can roam at free safety. Bussey plays so well for the injured Fulcher earlier in the year they can’t take him out. “Barney’s always been a tremendous player,” Thomas says. “He’s just been in David Fulcher’s shadow.” The Bengals are banged-up, but loose and hot. They haven’t lost since that Dec. 16 game against Raiders that went down, 24-7. Esiason is asked if he can have the pick, what celebrity would he choose to have on the sidelines. “We want Ray Combs,” he says, “because he’s Cincinnati through and through.”

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