Sam Hubbard And Joe Burrow Have The Hometown Bengals At Home In The Playoffs

Sam Hubbard (94) and Joe Burrow (9) salute the faithful.
Sam Hubbard (94) and Joe Burrow (9) salute the faithful.

On a night the Ohio Players offered their '70s mega hit "Fire," during a Wild Card halftime on the Paycor Stadium stage, the Bengals' own version of the Ohio Players lit the torch of the NFL playoffs.

Cincinnati's own Sam Hubbard turned the game and a page in the NFL postseason record book with a 98-yard fumble return that purpled the Ravens, 24-17, while Joe Burrow of Athens became the Bengals all-time winningest postseason quarterback with his fourth win.

On a night Burrow was more effective than prolific (23 of 32 for 209 yards and a touchdown and no turnovers) and his offensive line lost its third starter in as many weeks, he also calmly broke Ken Anderson's Bengals all-time postseason records for attempts and completions as Cincinnati beat a division foe for the first time in the playoffs

It was also the kind of riveting, raucous night that reflected why Burrow likes it here as the governor of Bengaldom. A sea of orange and black flowing in a canyon of sound from 66,399, the second largest crowd in Paycor Stadium. Plus, a head coach that gets him.

Burrow confirmed after he raised his postseason record to 4-1 what he told NBC in an interview. He likes it here and wants to stay.

  "I love our fans here. I love being from Ohio, playing for this team, and representing this state the way I do," Burrow said. "The fans do a great job of giving us energy and putting us in a good position to make it hard on opposing teams when they come in here."

He also likes head coach Zac Taylor's touch around the playbook and the meetings.

"He always knows what to say," Burrow said. "He's not a huge 'rah-rah' speech kind of guy, but he always finds the few sentences that are just right for the right moment. They resonate for everyone."

Taylor gave it right back as he thought about how Burrow's scramble on third-inches from his own 26 saved everyone's bacon in a game the Bengals trailed, 10-9, on their first series of the second half.

"We got zone coverage and the play was just a disaster," Taylor said. "For him to sprint out and reverse course and get us the first down is really a play that should get more storylines than some realize because that play (came) versus a bad look and he just kind of willed it to happen … If we don't get that drive, who knows how the game goes from there? It's a three-and-out and we're punting, but he just makes plays like that to will us to victory."

But Burrow also likes the guys. For one, Hubbard is more than one of his best buddies from Ohio State. He represents how Taylor, director of player personnel Duke Tobin and Bengals president Mike Brown have built a team that has gone to two straight Divisional games.

"He's what this whole thing is built on — toughness, hard work, and leadership," Burrow said. "Those are the type of guys we try to bring in here. He's one of my best friends and comes up with big plays, over and over. He gets his work done, has a positive attitude in the locker room. He's the type of guy you want on your team."

Which is usually what they're saying about Burrow. Hubbard, who grew up rooting for the T.J. Houshmandzadeh Bengals, can't get enough of these nights. Houshmandzadeh was the Ruler of the Jungle Sunday, but Hubbard was king.

"It was unbelievable. I think our fans are some of the best fans in the NFL," Hubbard said. "The environment's similar or better than college, Ohio State. It was special. I never thought I'd see that day here in Cincinnati, but it's been a long road. I'm glad we've got that type of energy here."

They know there is work to be done before heading to Buffalo Sunday for a 3 p.m. game. With left tackle Jonah Williams (knee) possibly joining right tackle La'el Collins (knee) and right guard Alex Cappa (ankle) as out, it would seem Jackson Carman could be the guy this week if Williams can't go since he came off the bench Sunday and took his first NFL snaps at tackle in his fourth game of the season. He's barely worked with left guard Cordell Volson, but they believe he's a more natural tackle.

"Jackson's played a lot of football for us. We have faith in him," Burrow said. "He works hard, he gets his job done. We're going to count on him a lot."

The 234 yards were the fewest the Bengals have racked up in Burrow's 28 wins. The 18 rushes for 51 yards are lows in the nine-game winning streak while the four sacks are a high.

But a playoff win is a playoff win and Burrow was buoyed by stacking another postseason win.

"That's what it looks like. When you play a divisional team for the third time, all that matters is coming out with the win," Burrow said. "It's very satisfying, especially when you play a team like that. They're so good at what they do, and to beat a divisional team for the second time in two weeks is tough."

For Bengaldom, how they turned late bad vibes into wins in Tampa Bay, New England and Sunday is becoming a way of life.

"I think it says something that last year, we had to break the curse or whatever, but this year we weren't worried about the past or anything," Hubbard said. "It's a whole new team, era, whatever you want to call it. That's just the mentality we have. We're not worried about curses or the past or anything like that. We're on to the next."

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