Jim Breech calls it "Divine Providence," and the 52,157 who witness it on the riverfront can only agree after a 20-17 numbing overtime victory over the Super Bowl champion Redskins fittingly ends this Ripley's Believe It Or Not 1988 regular season with more improbable drama and home-field advantage.
This is the season of Ickey, Boomer, Fulcher and the Jim Borgman cartoon of the huge Bengal tiger with its tail wrapped around Riverfront Stadium hissing, "Next."
But on Dec. 17, 1988, the Bengals find themselves five seconds and 29 yards away from losing their first home game of the season, the AFC Central title, a bye in the NFL playoffs and home field as Washington's Chip Lohmiller lines up a 29-yard field goal with five seconds left.
Lohmiller has made 10 straight and hasn't missed in two months. But five of his kicks have hit the upright this season. Make it six. This one clangs off the right upright and the Bengals survive in overtime when Breech doesn't and keeps his OT record perfect with a 20-yarder.
Quarterback Boomer Esiason, who had tied it at 17 with a 69-yard bomb to wide receiver Eddie Brown with 8:31 left in regulation, watches trainer Marv Pollins run past him on the sidelines.
"I said to myself, 'If he misses this, this is the Bengals' year,'" says Esiason of the moment Lohmiller lined up. "Damned if he didn't hit the upright. Our trainer was running around saying Joe Post (the goal post) should be the MVP."
But it is safety Barney Bussey that got Breech the chip shot. When he blitzes Redskins quarterback Doug Williams, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, he belts him in the midsection and the ball pops loose to be recovered by rookie defensive tackle David Grant at the Washington 17.
Running back Ickey Woods, who this day already has logged the fifth 100-yard game of his rookie year (and the last of his career), carries it twice before Breech comes on and leaves the field under different circumstances.
In the first quarter, Breech went to the sideline under a shower of boos after his 40-yarder came up extremely short. But Esiason and safety David Fulcher pick him up.
Trailing 10-0 and suffering from a sprained finger, Esiason brings the Bengals back on 10-of-19 passing for 187 yards that includes the late heroics to Brown. And he has to do some of it without the protector of his blind side, right tackle Joe Walter, who tears his ACL during the afternoon.
When Redskins coach Joe Gibbs eschews a field goal that would have given Washington a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter, Fulcher fights through the fullback to stone Redskins running back Jamie Morris for a one-yard loss on fourth-and-one. He meets Morris often that day because the rookie running back from Michigan is on his way to carry an NFL-record 45 times.
Minutes later Esiason makes the Redskins pay when he finds Brown.
The Bengals make the most of the home-field advantage. They don't have to venture to Seattle or Buffalo, and stay right in Cincinnati to win the right go to Miami in Super Bowl XXIII.