Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. Eastern.
Television: The game will air nationally on CBS-TV. In the Bengals’ home region, it will be carried by WKRC-TV (Ch. 12) in Cincinnati, WHIO-TV (Ch. 7) in Dayton and on WKYT-TV (Ch. 27) in Lexington. Broadcasters are Ian Eagle (play-by-play), Trent Green (analyst) and Evan Washburn (sideline reporter).
Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530; all sports) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).
The game also will air nationally on Westwood One Radio. Broadcasters are Ryan Radtke (play-by-play), Tony Boselli (analyst) and Laura Okmin (sideline reporter).
Setting the scene: The Bengals’ playoff run moves to the divisional round this Saturday, when they will take on the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Cincinnati will be looking to ride the momentum of last Saturday’s 26-19 win over Las Vegas, which snapped the Bengals’ eight-game postseason losing streak.
“I’m happy for the city,” said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. “The city can finally exhale.
“There’s just such an incredible history here in Cincinnati. There’s Super Bowl appearances, there’s conference championships. And really these last two decades, there’s been so many tremendous players, teams and coaches. I hope they feel like they’re a part of this win and can enjoy this win, because they really laid the foundation for us to do this. Today was significant for a lot of people.”
The Raiders struck first on Saturday with an opening-drive FG, but the Bengals answered on the ensuing possession with a 75-yard drive that was capped by a seven-yard TD pass from QB Joe Burrow to TE C.J. Uzomah. Cincinnati controlled most of the first half and eventually ran its lead to 20-6 late in the second quarter, thanks to a 10-yard pass from Burrow to WR Tyler Boyd. On the play, Burrow fled the pocket, sprinted toward the right sideline, and let go of a pass across his body just before his foot touched out of bounds.
After the game, Taylor was asked about the play and whether he thought in the moment that it was an ill-advised pass.
“The more I’ve been around, I’ve learned to just shut my mouth and let the magic occur,” he said with a smile. “That’s the kind of play you expect from the No. 1 pick in the draft. Plays like that, you can’t explain. It’s just making a play when there’s no play to be made.”
The Raiders, though, answered quickly and took the momentum into halftime, as QB Derek Carr led an 11-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 14-yard TD pass with just 13 seconds remaining.
But that score proved to be the only TD of the day for Las Vegas, as Cincinnati’s defense continually bent — Carr passed for 310 yards, and RB Josh Jacobs averaged 6.4 yards on 13 carries — but rarely broke. Las Vegas made it to the red zone five times on the afternoon, but came away with just that one TD.
Making that feat all the more impressive was the fact that Cincinnati’s defense lost three defensive linemen — DE Trey Hendrickson (concussion), DT Larry Ogunjobi (foot) and DT Mike Daniels (groin) — to injuries throughout the game.
“We had a lot of guys go down on the defensive line,” said DE Sam Hubbard. “Guys stepped up and just had to grind it out. We were trying to keep (Carr) in the pocket and doubling guys on the back end. We were just grinding it out and doing whatever we could to keep them out of the end zone.”
After both teams traded field goals throughout the second half, the Bengals held a 26-19 lead at the two-minute warning. P Kevin Huber — one of just four players who were with the Bengals for their last playoff game in the 2015 season — then punted the ball away to the Raiders, who took over possession at their own 35-yard line with 1:51 remaining.
Carr drove the Raiders all the way to the Bengals’ nine-yard line with 30-seconds remaining, but Cincinnati’s defense continued its strong showing in the red zone. Carr spiked the ball to stop the clock on first down, then threw two incompletions to bring up fourth-and-goal from the nine. That’s when LB Germaine Pratt, a 2019 third-round pick of the Bengals, jumped a pass over the middle and picked it off to seal the game.
“It was very fitting,” Taylor said. “Germaine has been a guy that’s been all about taking the ball away all season. He’s always a guy that when we watch the tape, he’s trying to punch the ball out, rake it out, whatever he’s got to do. So for him to get the pick on the last play of the game, it’s really fitting of what he’s been all about. He finished it off for us the right way.” After the game, Taylor was asked about his own journey and role in ending the Bengals’ 31-year drought without a playoff win.
“Personally, if I coached in any other organization in football, I probably wouldn’t be here right now in my third year. That’s the truth. But (Bengals President Mike Brown) just has the experience and understanding. There’s no other owner that sits at every walk through, at every practice in the freezing cold, the rain, the snow. This means the world to him. And because he’s around, and because (Bengals ownership) cares so much, they get a chance to hear your vision firsthand on a daily basis. So we’re all on the same page, and there’s no miscommunication. They can see where we need to go, and that we’re going to get there. They just believe in these players and coaches.”
Veterans like Uzomah and Hubbard — a Cincinnati native — followed Taylor at the postgame news conference podium and artfully expressed how far the team had come and how much the win meant to both them and the city. Burrow, though, was decidedly less emotional.
“Yeah, it felt good,” he said. “But we could’ve played better on offense in the second half, so that was disappointing. It’s an exciting win, but on to the next one.”
Burrow, who was donning a pair of rose-colored Cartier glasses, struck the same chord when asked again what it meant to get a win in his first playoff start.
“I mean, it’s exciting,” he said. “But this was expected. This isn’t like the icing on top of the cake or anything — this is the cake. So we’re moving on.”
Cincinnati now moves on to Tennessee, the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The health of the Bengals’ defensive line against the Titans’ powerful rushing attack figures to be a major storyline, as does the connection between Titans QB Ryan Tannehill and his former position coach in Miami, Zac Taylor.
A win this Saturday would mean a Bengals road game at either Buffalo or Kansas City for the AFC Championship, which will be played on Sunday, Jan. 30 at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The Bengals are the lowest-remaining seed in the AFC, and thus can not host another playoff game.
“We’ll get straight to work,” Burrow said. “Obviously we’re excited about this win, but it’s the playoffs. If you dwell on this one too much, then you’re going to get beat in the next round.
“We expect to beat everybody that we play — not just hang with them. The guys we have in that locker room know what kind of players we have, and the coaches have a great game plan every week. We’ll be ready to go.”
The series: The Bengals and Titans (formerly Oilers) have met 76 times (including postseason), making the Titans the third-most played foe in Bengals history. Cincinnati has played more games against only Pittsburgh (105) and Cleveland (97). The Bengals and Titans/Oilers were rivals in the old AFC Central Division, playing twice per year in the regular season from 1970-2001.
Tennessee leads 40-35-1 in the series overall (regular season and postseason). The Titans lead 23-13-1 as the home team, and they lead the series 6-3 in games played in Tennessee since their relocation there in 1997. However, the Bengals have won five of the past seven meetings overall, and the two are split 2-2 in games played in Tennessee since parting ways as division opponents with NFL realignment in 2002.
The Bengals won the only previous postseason meeting between the two teams, 41-14 in a Wild Card Playoff at Cincinnati after the 1990 NFL season.
D tightens after the break: Cincinnati during the regular season allowed just 40 third-quarter points, second-fewest in the NFL behind Buffalo. The Bengals outscored their competition 102-40 in the third quarter during the regular season, good for a plus-62 point differential that was third-best leaguewide behind only Buffalo (plus-70) and Green Bay (plus-63).
Cincinnati’s third-quarter defense has only gotten better as the season has gone along. The Bengals have not allowed a single point in the third quarter in each of their last four games (including the Wild Card Playoff win over Las Vegas), and have allowed just 10 third-quarter points altogether since their Week 10 bye — a nine-game stretch. Cincinnati has held its opponents scoreless in the third quarter in 11 of its 18 games this season.
Flipping the script on the road: The Bengals during the regular season won five road games, which counted as their most wins away from home since 2015 (six). They fell one regular-season road win shy of tying the single-season team record of six, accomplished in 1981, 2005, ’12, and ’15.
Dating back to 2020, Cincinnati has won six of its last nine road games.
It wasn’t long ago, though, that the shoe was on the other foot. The Bengals lost 13 straight road games between 2018 and early ’20, and that bleeding was stopped only by a tie at Philadelphia. Head coach Zac Taylor did not pick up his first road win until his 16th game away from Paul Brown Stadium (includes a 2019 neutral site loss to the Rams in London), a fact the third-year Bengals head coach has not forgotten.
“We’ve really matured,” Taylor told the media after his team’s 31-13 win at Las Vegas on Nov. 21. “We lost 15 games in a row on the road at one point — I don’t know if you all remember that, but I do (laughs).
“This team has really turned their mentality. When we get on a plane, get on a bus and go to a hotel, we come out there really focused. They’ve handled it really well. I have no concerns taking this team on the road and wondering how they’re going to handle it. I’m proud of them.”Head Coach Zac Taylor
Bengals go ‘worst to first’: Cincinnati’s 2021 AFC North division title is the fifth instance in Bengals history that the team won a division title after finishing last in their division the previous season. The 2021 team now joins the 1970, ’81, ’88 and ’90 Bengals as division champions who finished last in their division the season before.
Cincinnati finished 4-11-1 in 2020, and was fourth in the AFC North behind Cleveland (11-5), Baltimore (11-5) and division-champion Pittsburgh (12-4).
Bengals’ O boasts young nucleus: During the 2021 regular season, the Bengals became the first team in NFL history with a 4000-yard passer, 1000-yard rusher and two 1000-yard receivers who were all under 26 years old. QB Joe Burrow (25 years old) had 4611 passing yards, HB Joe Mixon (25) had 1205 rushing yards, and Ja’Marr Chase (21) and Tee Higgins (22) had 1455 and 1091 receiving yards, respectively.
The 2006 Bengals are the only other squad in team history with a 4000-yard passer (Carson Palmer), 1000-yard rusher (Rudi Johnson), and two 1000-yard receivers (Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh).
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