*Boomer Esiason's advice to Andy Dalton: "Close your eyes, envision you doing it and getting it done and know that this is something you can easily do and don't get caught up in the emotion of it." *
Norman Julius Esiason predicts it.
After Saturday night's Wild Card Game (8:15-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium, he will no longer be the last Bengals quarterback to win a post-season game. He says that honor, for at least a week, is going to belong to Raymond Anthony McCarron Jr.
"Don't you love his attitude about it?" Boomer Esiason asks of AJ McCarron's play-off aplomb. "He seems like he's a really good kid. It sounds like he's really got his crap together. I don't expect him to go out and throw for 350 yards.
"They've got more than enough players," Esiason says. "They've got one of the best rosters in football. Act like it. They should act like they should expect to win this game. Especially with a beat-up Steelers team coming in that has major holes."
The Bengals have spent the week telling everyone they're not living in the past and you have to believe them since roughly a third of them weren't alive on Jan. 6, 1991 when Esiason engineered a 41-14 victory over Houston at old Riverfront Stadium in an AFC Wild Card Game between division rivals. Esiason is on board with the kids. He has virtually no recollection of the game. Told he threw the ball in the stands after a 10-yard touchdown run, Esiason didn't blink.
"Somebody has to have the legs," he says. "Let it go, will you? You guys have been to the playoffs five straight years."
Esiason is an NFL lifer. He played in the game for 14 years and for longer than that now he has been one of the most eloquent voices about the best and worst of the league in the CBS-TV studio and in the radio booth. The funny thing about pro football, he says, is there are always equalizers out there and so it is with this latest passion play known as Bengals-Steelers and that is why he is picking the Bengals even though McCarron's three NFL starts are matched against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's three Super Bowl starts.
"There's a lot not going the Steelers' way right now," Esiason says. "This is not a top ten or top five defense. They can be thrown on. They can be run on. And they certainly aren't the running team they have been before. But saying all that, they have one of the great quarterback-wide receiver tandems that you've ever seen. If it is inclement weather that benefits the Bengals."
One of the equalizers. Mid-40s and rain cushioning the inexperience and the lethal play-making of Big Ben and his X-Box receivers, Esiason says.
"The Steelers have to be thinking about this," he says. "This is the sixth straight backup quarterback they've played. Is that how they got into the playoffs?"
Ryan Mallett hit them up for 9 of 18 on third down. Brock Osweiler threw for three TDs and nearly 300 yards against them before he got benched. McCarron went 66 yards to A.J. Green for the first TD pass of his career. And back before it all went to mush, Johnny Manziel went off for 372 yards and managed to score nine points.
"I think AJ is going to be OK. From what I've seen the past few games, he's not overwhelmed by it," Esiason says. "I think he's catching the Steelers at the right time. That's not a great defense by any stretch of the imagination. The only way I could see him struggling is if there are problems with trying to pick up blitzes and the protection breaks down and it kind of snow balls on him."
But Esiason says there is a great equalizer to having a second-year back-up quarterback with all of 92 career passes.
"The talent. It's why everyone wants to hire Duke Tobin," Esiason says of the Bengals director of player personnel that signed on this week to stay longer in Cincinnati despite feelers from at least two teams.
"You see it every day. Same guys. Same guys practicing against each. But the national perspective is they have one of the league's best rosters," Esiason says. "I don't think (Steelers running back) DeAngelo Williams (ankle) is going to make it. So you have to make them one dimensional. Put it on Ben, Antonio Brown, (tight end) Heath Miller. The defense has to play like it did in Denver. Flying all over the field. (Michael) Johnson, (Carlos) Dunlap, (Geno) Atkins. This is the week they wear the hat. They have to dominate. They've got to hold them to around 20-23 points. That means you can win, 24-20, 23-20, something like that. But anything more than 24 I think AJ is going to have a tough time matching that production."
Esiason says his receivers have to show their talent. He understands about not putting the kid in a bad situation so he throws the killing turnover.
"But those guys like A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones have to catch the ball for him," Esiason says.
The only thing Esiason can remember from that 1990 AFC Wild Card Game is, of all things, NBC announcer O.J. Simpson. Simpson did the on-field interview after it was over and four years later at the height of his murder trial, Esiason's sister Robin called her brother to let him know his interview had become a part of the evidence. While interviewing Esiason, Simpson apparently wore a pair of gloves and shoes that were of particular interest.
Then they went to Los Angeles the next week and nearly snuck into the AFC title game before losing 20-10 in the fourth quarter to the Raiders.
What Esiason remembers is Raiders running back Bo Jackson getting tackled right in front of him by Bengals linebacker Kevin Walker and no one realizing at the time that they had just seen Jackson carry the ball for the last time. Jackson was so strong that the routine tackle popped his hip out of place.
The Curse of Bo? The Bengals haven't won a play-off game since knocking out one of the game's great running backs. In one Wild Card Game they lost their quarterback on the second play and it looks like they're not going to have him at all in another one.
"No,' Esiason said. "What's wrong with you?
"They've been to the playoffs five straight years," he says and he says this time they'll win with talent trumping an injury. "It's funny how the NFL always seems to even itself in some way, shape, or form."
McCarron, he says, can get it done and he gives his fellow Bengals quarterback some parting advice.
"AJ has been through the wars at Alabama. He had a great coach. He knows what it takes to win games," Esiason says. "My hopes for him would be just close your eyes, envision you doing it and getting it done and know that this is something you can easily do and don't get caught up in the emotion of it."