TDBH:Bengals have a Ball with help from Commander Cody to hoist Central crown

Posted Dec 29, 2017

This Day in Bengals - December 30, 1990

In a year the Reds go wire-to-wire the Bengals go to the wire. Again. For the fourth time in head coach Sam Wyche’s seven years the Bengals find themselves on the last day of the season needing help to make the postseason. They are 0-for-3 until tonight, when Houston back-up quarterback Cody Carlson lights up the Steelers in the Astrodome, 34-14, to thwart Pittsburgh’s bid to clinch the AFC Central. So the Bengals’ tractor-pull of a 21-14 victory over the lowly Browns at Riverfront Stadium earlier today secured on Boomer Esiason’s gotcha-third-and-two bomb to running back Eric Ball for a 48-yard touchdown with 8:40 left in the season breaks up a 14-14 game and gives them a 9-7 record and their second division title in three years. Only in the AFC Central. After 17 weeks, 16 games, a five-week road trip, four injured Pro Bowlers, and one national controversy involving Wyche’s crusade banning women media from the locker room, and a little help, the Bengals slide into a home Wild Card Game next week against Carlson’s Oilers 14 days after Cincinnati rips them at Riverfront, 40-20. “It’s been a long season, not just a long day,” says Wyche tonight as scans the last few moments of the Oilers’ win. “I really feel good about our chances. We’re playing a team we just beat two weeks ago.  That’s in our favor.”


The Steelers finally cooperate. In 1984 the 8-8 Bengals needed the AFC West champ Raiders to beat the Steelers at home, but Pittsburgh eked it out, 13-7. The next year Pittsburgh had to beat the Giants, Cleveland had to beat the Jets and the 8-8 Bengals had to beat the Patriots to get in and none of it happened. And then in 1986 the Bengals needed the Steelers to beat the Chiefs and Miami to beat New England on Monday night. The Steelers didn’t allow an offensive TD, but the Chiefs scored three specials teams touchdowns to win 24-19, and eliminated the Bengals’ first 10-win team since the 1981 AFC championship. But Commander Cody saves the day in the irony of ironies. The only reason he’s playing is the week before future Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon breaks his hand on Bengals rookie linebacker James Francis’ helmet with 1:47 left in the blow-out loss in Cincy.  After the embattled Bengals defense sets the tone today when it stones Cleveland on four straight shots on the goal line late in the first quarter, they fan out into the night to watch the Oilers. But perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Anthony Munoz stays in to watch with his two grade-school kids. “My son fell asleep in the middle of the fourth quarter and my daughter is still up,” Munoz says. “But I don’t think she realizes what’s happening. I think it will hit me when I’m with the guys tomorrow.”


Munoz is emblematic of the tough season. He separates his shoulder a few weeks ago and keeps playing until he gets poked in the eye today on the fifth snap. Munoz is cleared to come back in the second half, but rookie free-agent Kirk Scrafford out of Montana is holding the fort so they opt to sit out Munoz the rest of the way and get him ready for the playoffs.  They still pound the Browns for 151 yards as running backs James Brooks (84) and  Ickey Woods (48) share the load and Esiason only has to pass 16 times. But it is Esiason’s feathery loft to Ball coming out of the backfield off his lethal play-action that wins it on Ball’s only touch of the day.  “The Browns defense was playing the run,” Ball says. “All I did was block the corner, swing out, and get behind them. They were certainly expecting the off-tackle run by Ickey … No question Boomer is the best play-action quarterback there is.” Ball has only two concerns. He dropped a similar wide-open pass last year and Esiason hangs it high enough he loses this one briefly in the lights. “You were waiting for it to come down, too?” Ball asks with a laugh. The Bengals’ wild ride has also landed.


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