“Exhale and enjoy the ride, ‘cause we’re not done yet.”
The enthusiasm of Cincinnati Bengals’ head coach Zac Taylor is contagious.
“We’ve got more in store,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said after the game.
Quarterback Joe Burrow agreed.
“This is expected. This isn’t like the icing on top of the cake. This is the cake, and so we’re moving on.”
Tight end C.J. Uzomah took it one step further.
“That’s just one,” Uzomah said. “We’re trying to run the table.”
Uzomah played a big role in getting the Bengals to where they are today.
The quiet, but confident, seventh-year pro out of Auburn finished the season with career bests in receptions with 49, which was good for No. 18 among all tight ends; yards with 493 (No. 25); and touchdowns with five (tied for 8th). He even pulled in a long of 55 yards, which was seventh best in the league.
And he picked up right where he left off with his effort in the playoff victory against the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday. Uzomah was the team’s second-leading receiver, behind only Ja’Marr Chase, with six receptions (on six targets) for 64 yards and a score.
But none were as big as his first reception of the game, a 7-yard dart from Burrow that gave the Bengals their first touchdown and put them up 7-3 with just over four-and-a-half minutes left in the first quarter.
“C.J. made a great play on that first drive,” Burrow said. “I put it in a good spot. C.J. did a great job of reading coverage and understanding he was open - just turn around, and he was going to get the ball.”
“Joe threw a dot,” Uzomah agreed. “That was an incredible throw. Right when I broke the huddle and saw their coverage, I knew it was coming to me. Right when I turned and saw his eyes, I said, whoa, touchdown.”
Cincinnati rode the momentum of the opening-drive score to a 20-6 lead, and went into halftime up 20-13. The Bengals added a field goal with the opening drive of the second half, but had to hang on at the end for their first playoff victory in 31 years.
“I think we got a little tense as an offense in the second half, doing things that were a little uncharacteristic,” Uzomah pointed out. “Now we can play loose. It is our time.”
And just what time is that?
“This is how it’s gonna be,” he explained. “We’re gonna run the table and win the whole thing.”
Uzomah credited Taylor and the entire coaching staff for putting the team in a position to end the Curse of Bo Jackson that began with a playoff loss to this same Raiders’ team on January 13, 1991, and ended with a promise.
“Coach Taylor and what this whole staff has instilled in us, and the culture that they brought in is so telling,” Uzomah said. “Us as a team, we appreciate him and this coaching staff. I know he didn’t win Coach of the Year, and because he didn’t, we’re just going to have to prove him and win a Super Bowl.”