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Playoff Notebook: How 'Playoff P's; Offseason Produced Most Famous Bengals Interception

Germaine Pratt has the ball and the game.
Germaine Pratt has the ball and the game.

Linebacker Germaine Pratt, author of the most famous interception in Bengals history (because it was in the playoffs), never has to buy a thing whenever he's out in Cincinnati for the rest of his natural life.

But Pratt, father of two babies two years and younger, doesn't go out much. If he did, though, he thinks he would get recognized even though he didn't become a steady every down player until a few weeks ago, about halfway through his third season.

"There are sometimes I'll be out and get recognized, but I'm a family man," Pratt said this week. "My girl and I keep a pretty low-profile."

He could have been describing his "Athletes Anonymous" defense, which has spent the week tuning for Saturday's audience (4:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) with Titans running back Derrick "King," Henry in the AFC Divisional in Nashville.

Before last Saturday's Wild Card win over the Raiders, the defense turned down head coach Zac Taylor's offer to be announced as the starters. The thinking is the Paul Brown Stadium record crowd would get more riled up with the introduction of the easily recognizable single-digits and many accomplishments of No. 1 Ja'Marr Chase and No. 9 Joe Burrow.

"It doesn't matter to me. Get the crowd going. They know who they are. They should know who they are," said Pratt, who did find time to give himself the nickname 'Playoff P," the week before his first postseason game.

"We won the coin toss. We got on the field first. That's what matters."

Thanks to Pratt's interception with 12 seconds left at the Raiders 2, the Bengals defense was also last off the field, not including Burrow's kneel down, and his pick kicked off a black-and-orange celebration still careering through Cincinnati.

"That's what good defense is," Pratt said. "All 11 guys working together to make a play and the team coming first."

Pratt's No. 57 got plenty of play in the highlights. It was a play that in the first two years of his career he very well may not have been on the field to make. And if he was, he probably couldn't have made it.

Linebackers coach Al Golden knew early in this training camp that Pratt was his most improved player. When he watched Pratt bolt in front of Raiders wide receiver Zay Jones for his second career interception for the last shuffle of the Wild Card, Golden knew where it all began.

Look at the tape and there is Pratt, dropping in what Golden calls "a matchy zone." Pratt sees Jones to his outside, to the left of him. There he is doing what he's taught, looking over his outside shoulder and sinking his hips as he reads the eyes of quarterback Derek Carr.

"The biggest difference besides his maturity and preparation on the field is in the offseason he concentrated on his flexibility. Bending his knees and playing lower for longer," Golden said. "It really helped him in coverage. And the anticipation comes from he watches so much film. He's evolved into an every down player."

Pratt arrived as advertised in the third round out of North Carolina State in head coach Zac Taylor's first draft. A smart, durable player who never got enough of watching tape. When he went back to his new house in Charlotte for the last offseason, the tape told him what to work on.


"I just look at it as getting better each year," Pratt said. "How do you improve? It's understanding routes and concepts."

It's also working with a defensive backs coach a few times a week and going through the intricacies of drops and coming out of the breaks. It's getting into hot yoga and learning how to limber up his body, starting with the ankles.

"When I was young," said Pratt, who is all of 25, "I would just go out and run without stretching. I didn't realize the value of stretching or being flexible. Now I'm doing Pilates a couple of times a week."

Which is how a low-key dad with a number in the 50s owns the most famous interception in Bengals history.

"Let's get go get another one," said "Playoff P, who was talking about another win."

D-LINE DAY: It looks like the Bengals draft room picked the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year with the fifth pick in wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase and the NFL Special Teams Rookie of the Year with a fifth-rounder in kicker Evan McPherson. But the fourth round may hold the key in Saturday's matchup against the Titans bruising running game.

The Bengals have been devastated at tackle, losing starting three technique Larry Ogunjobi and backup Mike Daniels. Josh Tupou went full for the first time this week on Thursday and is going to play after missing last week with a knee injury. They hope he can give them some snaps, along with Zach Kerr, signed Tuesday from the Arizona practice squad.

They went with Kerr since they've gotten fewer than 50 snaps this season from massive fourth-rounder Tyler Shelvin, the 350-pounder from LSU who has been active for only three games but is expected to dress in Nashville.

But a fourth-rounder they have been able to rely on during what has been a terrific rookie year in 310 snaps, Tulane's Cam Sample, is going to be asked to do more against the Titans. An edge player who can play the run on first and second down, he slid into tackle a season-high eight times against the Raiders during his 34 snaps. With B.J. Hill and his 5.5 sacks on 502 snaps now starting in place of Ogunjobi's seven (in 724 snaps), Sample probably has to give Hill breathers on third down on an inside pass rush.

"He's been a really solid player for us. He's come in and kind of played like a veteran for us," said defensive line coach Marion Hobby. "He's playing three different positions for us (tackle, edge, outside linebacker when he drops). We've put a lot on him and he's responded well."

Hobby says Shelvin hasn't played simply because there have been productive vets in front of him, such Ogunjobi, Hill and Daniels on the practice squad.

"He just has guys in front of him. He's a young player. He's just got some guys in front of him. I told him that. I've been telling him all year. Sooner or later, we're going to need you. Guess what?"

The de facto captain of the tackles, veteran nose man D.J. Reader, thinks Shelvin is ready. He was told Shelvin's M.O. in college was the bigger the game, the better he played.

"He's a big, athletic guy. I'm excited to see him play," Reader said. "Time to see the M.O."

Reader played the 247-pound Henry twice a year while with the Texans.

"You have to get him before he gets started," Reader said. "Make sure you contain him. Get him down before he starts rolling."

POWER OF YOUTH: Apparently Bengals head coach Zac Taylor got carded when he went into the Mount Lookout Tavern to deliver a game ball last Saturday night, but he's certainly old enough to coach in the Jan. 30 AFC title game if the Bengals win Saturday.

According to Elias, at 38 years, 265 days, Taylor would be the sixth youngest head coach to lead a team to a conference final in the 52 seasons of the merger.

Taylor would be older this his boss, 32-year-old Sean McVay in 2018, 33-year-old John Madden in 1970 (not to mention 1973 and 1974), 36-year-old Mike Tomlin in 2008, 37-year-old John Gruden in 2000 and 37-year-old Bill Cowher in 1994 (and 1995).

On Thursday, Taylor had one last look at his club before it tries to become the first Bengals team to win a road playoff game.

"I think the guys are really locked in," Taylor said. "The attention to detail has been good. They've been confident but loose. It's a big week, but you wouldn't know it from watching our guys."