CINCINNATI – Paul Brown Stadium nearly shook in triumph. The city of Cincinnati might have, too.
Its latest hero, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, merely seemed to shrug after leading his team to its first playoff victory in 31 years, 26-19 over Las Vegas on Saturday in an AFC wild-card game.
"It’s exciting for the city, for the state, but we are not going to dwell on that, we are moving forward," said Burrow, who threw two touchdown passes. “This is expected, this isn’t like the icing on top of the cake, this is the cake. So we are moving on."
Burrow led an efficient offense that scored on six drives, Evan McPherson became the first rookie to make four field goals without a miss in a postseason debut, and Germaine Pratt sealed it with a fourth-down interception in the dying seconds.
It was a victory three decades in the making for the Bengals (11-7). After going from worst to first in the AFC North with a generally young roster, they ended that embarrassingly long postseason drought that included eight consecutive defeats.
“Who Dey” indeed.
Coach Zac Taylor said game balls were going to team owner Mike Brown and to the city itself.
“Some of them might not understand the significance of what happened today,” he said of his players. “The city can finally enjoy ... this team and take the pressure off of the last 31 years. Today was significant for a lot of people.”
Their next opponent will depend on results in the other two AFC wild-card games this weekend.
"It’s going to be fun tomorrow to watch the games knowing we have the win,” said Burrow, the top overall selection in the 2020 draft who led the NFL in completion percentage this season. He went 24 for 34 for 244 yards Saturday.
Helped by some problematic officiating by Jerome Boger's crew that might have allowed Burrow's touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd to count when it shouldn't have, the Bengals also extended a lengthy postseason drought for the Raiders (10-8). Las Vegas, which won its final four games to squeeze into the playoffs, last won in the postseason in the 2002 AFC championship game.
Cincinnati made it 4 for 4 on scoring drives late in the first half, though with some controversy. Burrow rolled right to avoid pressure and threw from close to the sideline. Play continued despite an erroneous whistle by an official, who thought Burrow stepped out of bounds. Boyd caught the 10-yard pass in the back of the end zone for a 20-6 lead. The play counted, to protests from the Raiders, who cited the rule that the ball should be returned to the previous spot.
And Las Vegas lost by seven points.
“We just ran out of time today,” said interim coach Rich Bisaccia. “We did some uncharacteristic things with some penalties and gave up some drives and didn’t capitalize when we had it in the red zone at times. So it just didn’t go our way today.”
Daniel Carlson, the league's top scorer, made a 47-yard field goal on the game's opening possession, and the Bengals countered. And kept scoring, though mostly field goals. Burrow took Cincinnati 75 yards in 10 plays, connecting with C.J. Uzomah in the front of the end zone from the 7 to make it 7-3. Burrow threw for 65 yards on the drive and Uzomah celebrated his score with the Ickey Shuffle.
Then the Bengals' defense stepped up with their sacks leader, T rey Hendrickson, stripping Carr of the ball. Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi rumbled 11 yards with it to the Raiders 10, but Las Vegas held and McPherson made a 31-yard field goal.
The mistakes kept coming for the visitors. Peyton Barber touched a botched kickoff heading out of bounds at the Raiders 2, putting them in a hole. All-Pro punter A.J. Cole got off a 58-yarder, but Trent Taylor's 14-yard return set up Cincinnati once more in prime position.
Ja'Marr Chase, who had nine receptions for 116 yards, kept victimizing the Raiders, his 38-yard reception getting the Bengals to the 6. McPherson made a 30-yarder for a 13-3 lead. It soon was 13-6 on Carlson's 28-yard field goal.
Then came Boyd's TD, followed by an impressive two-minute drill covering 80 yards for Las Vegas, capped by Carr's 14-yard pass to Zay Jones that made it 20-13. McPherson, a fifth-round draft pick last April, made two more second-half field goals, as did Carlson.
Carr finished 29 of 54 for 310 yards.
The crowd of 66,277 fans hungry for some playoff gold had to hold their breath before getting it.
“I think Germaine has made a really big step this year, Taylor said. ”I thought last year was a good step, I think this year he has made a tremendous jump. Super reliable for us.”
Raiders: LB Divine Deablo (concussion) left in the second quarter moments after being beaten by Uzomah on a 29-yard pass play. DT Quinton Jefferson hurt his foot. CB Brandon Facyson left with a concussion.
Bengals: DT Mike Daniels injured his groin in the first quarter and did not return. Ogunjobi was carted off early in the third period with a foot injury. Hendrickson went out with a concussion in the third quarter. They finished with just two healthy defensive tackles.
The Raiders head home to contemplate missed opportunities.
The Bengals move into the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
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