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Bengals Salute Highlights And History With Roaring Wild Card Win

Jessie Bates III salutes the record crowd.
Jessie Bates III salutes the record crowd.

Naturally, the Bengals would win their first playoff game since Sam Wyche, Boomer Esiason, Ickey Woods and, yes, Rodney Holman, when a relentless linebacker not known for coverage but for turnovers ripped the ball from the nephew of a former Bengals quarterback for an interception with 12 seconds left on fourth down and two yards from overtime.

Tight end C.J. Uzomah, who appeared in his news conference wearing a No. 82 jersey to honor three-time Pro Bowl Bengals tight end Rodney Holman after doing the "Ickey Shuffle," following his touchdown, scanned the biggest Paul Brown Stadium crowd in history in the final seconds of the 26-19 Wooly and Wild Card win over the Raiders and gave another nod to history.

"Right away, I just dropped to a knee and punched the ground, like just happy," Uzomah said. "And then after I took the knee, usually just leaving, we're walking off the field and the fans kind of clear out. I looked up and I know we had 66,000-something, I'll be there were still 50-something-thousand people. I know the top rows were probably cleared out but man, you could tell how much it meant to this city for us to get that win. Yeah, that was awesome. That was an awesome experience."

Head coach Zac Taylor had been planning it for a while and he'll figure out a place where to put the game ball he gave the city of Cincinnati after the Bengals beat-up defense hung on to get into next weekend's AFC Divisional, foe and site TBA.

As the massive crowd rocked and wept and sang in the 25-degree weather in a continuous dull roar that refused to leave, the matter-of-fact Taylor sketched his plan in his news conference.

"We want to start new traditions here with playoff wins where we give game balls to the city and let the fans enjoy it — take selfies with it, whatever it is," Taylor said. "We'll figure out how we're going to do that. (Some) people had their greatest moments tonight, so (we want them to) get a chance to enjoy these game balls with us. I told this to the players — some of them may not understand the significance of this win that happened today, but I know a lot of you in the room who are homegrown Cincinnatians certainly do. Like I said earlier, I think the city can finally exhale and just enjoy this team for what it is and take that pressure off those last 31 years."

The other game ball went to Bengals president Mike Brown, the 86-year-old owner looking for a third Super Bowl appearance after the first two got swallowed in the final minutes and seconds.

"There's no one who's more passionate about this team, this organization," Taylor said. "There's no owner that sits at every walk through, at every practice in the freezing cold, the rain, the snow. This means the world to him. Some of the players know him better than others. But the coaches and myself, we just owe so much to that man for being patient with us. Personally, if I coached in any other organization in football, I probably wouldn't be here right now in my third year. That's the truth. But he's just got the experience and understanding."

What he understands is that Joe Burrow became the third Bengals quarterback to win a playoff game with another patient, resourceful effort that mirrored the 32-13 win over the Raiders on Nov. 21 in Las Vegas despite his career-low 148 yards.

Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's Cover Three was just as unrelenting. This time Burrow said Bradley disguised it more, but it was nearly as effective. Wide receiver Tee Higgins didn't get his only catch, a 10-yarder, until the fourth quarter. This time Burrow's steel-belted 110 passer rating accounted for 244 yards and two touchdowns, but almost just as much frustration. Working against a Raiders defense giving up touchdowns 80 percent of the time in the red zone for a last ranking in the NFL, the Bengals were able to cash touchdowns on only two of five trips inside the 20.

But the best play Burrow made Saturday night might have been one he didn't make. Staring at fourth-and one from the Raiders 10 with 6:49 left in the game and the Bengals leading, 23-16, Taylor gave Burrow the option to run a play if he liked the look.

He didn't. And so Evan McPherson took the chip-shot field goal to make it 26-16.

"We were close. I wanted to get it, but I think sometimes, being patient in that kind of situation enables you to win that game," Burrow said. "So, I'm glad that I didn't snap it.

"I thought it was a good decision (to kick the field goal). We take the points, go up two scores in the fourth quarter. Our defense is playing really well. Let them handle it. Let's take our points and then move on."

That tells you what kind of a grind of a game it was. That won the game. But with 1:51 left in the first half, Burrow made one of those great plays that defines postseason legacies . On third-and-four from the Vegas 10, Burrow pulled one of his Houdini moves, disappeared in the rush, and then suddenly re-appeared stepping up in the pocket and racing to his right looking in the end zone.

And looking.

And looking some more.

Then, with his right foot on the 11-yard line just as he corkscrewed his body to stop himself from going out of bounds, he threw into the middle of the end zone for a touchdown to slot receiver Tyler Boyd to make it 20-6.

"They dropped eight, and they kind of had a spy on me, so I knew I could sit back in the pocket a little bit," Burrow said. "I found a little escape route, and I was telling the guys all week that the big plays would come in scramble situations because they're so good at limiting the big plays, and we kind of turned it around in that situation."

Somewhere in there a whistle blew before the ball got to Boyd. The Raiders wanted a do-over, but it's not reviewable. Just like Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter standing in the Bengals' last defensive huddle in the 2015 Wild Card Game. Karma and Burrow had their night.

"We confirmed with the referee and the crew that on that play – they got together and talked – they determined that they had a whistle, but that the whistle for them on the field was blown after the receiver caught the ball," said Walt Anderson, the league's senior vice president for officiating.

If the officials were flummoxed, Taylor was not. He said he didn't hear a thing, but he saw plenty.

"That's what you expect from the number one pick in the draft. Plays like that, you can't explain," Taylor said. "It's making a play when there's no play to be made. Joe Burrow's the kind of guy who can make those types of plays. It's pretty impressive."

Burrow, who suddenly appeared with stylish glasses at his news conference ("What do you think?" he asked), was as matter-of-fact as Taylor.

"It felt good. We could have played better on offense in the second half, so that was disappointing," Burrow said. "But I thought we played really well in the first half and we made plays when we needed to. Defense stepped up in fourth quarter, so it's an exciting win. On to the next one."

But everybody got a little excited when Pratt made his play at the end of a whirlwind 11-play, 1:39 drive. The Bengals defense, without leading sacker Trey Hendrickson (concussion) on the edge and Larry Ogunjobi (ankle) at the three technique, survived a 15-yard roughing the quarterback penalty on edge Khalid Kareem and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr's 23-yard rope to tight end Darren Waller on third-and-17.

"I was kind of hoping they would hurry up and go down and score so I could get back out there. I was glad the defense made a play," Burrow said. "I was sitting on the sidelines, but I figured I should probably stand up on fourth-and-nine. That guy (Germaine Pratt) has played unbelievable all year. I'm excited for him to be able to make a play in that situation."

You remember Germaine Pratt, right? He came into the game with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, the first Bengals linebacker since Brian Simmons in 2003 to have multiples of both. He made a huge turnover in overtime of the win over Minnesota in the opener. Usually he doesn't play on passing downs, but this season they've put his big body in there in the red zone and he's responded.

He certainly did on fourth-and-nine, two snaps after free safety Jessie Bates III, playing his best game of the season, nearly picked off a pass headed to wide receiver Zay Jones in the end zone.

Carr again eyed Jones, the nephew of former Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake.

"It's Cover 3, I had inside help," Pratt said of cornerback Eli Apple. "He did the same play on the one Jessie almost picked. It was a great play by Jessie getting that PBU, but then he tried to do the same thing and I took advantage of the opportunity. I read the quarterback's eyes and he threw it … Hook to hook, reading the quarterback's eyes basically."

Remember what Vonn Bell said about Pratt earlier this season?

"He wakes up thinking about the ball."

Taylor told his team amid the celebration it was quite fitting.

"He's been a guy that's been all about taking the ball away all season," Taylor said. "He got the one earlier in the season against Minnesota, and he's done it multiple times. He's always a guy that when we watch the tape, he's trying to punch the ball out, rake it out, whatever he's got to do. So for him to get the pick on the last play of the game, it's really just fitting of what he's been all about. He finished it off for us the right way."

Pratt was seen through the bedlam walking off the field with the ball.

But he took the cue from his quarterback.

"I'm going to put it up," Pratt said. "I want another ball. The next one is the best one."

Try telling it to that crowd of 66,277 that may still be there.

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