It was only fitting that linebacker Germaine Pratt should add the exclamation point to a Cincinnati Bengals’ victory that would put an end to 31 years of futility.
Pratt stepped in front of a Derek Carr pass intended for Zay Jones at Cincinnati’s 2-yard-line for an interception that put the finishing touches on the Bengals’ first playoff victory since January 6, 1991.
“Germaine Pratt, he’s our turnover guy, said defensive end and co-captain Sam Hubbard after the game. “Every day in practice, he’s been preaching, ‘get the ball out, get the ball out,’ so to have him come up with the turnover, it’s no accident.”
Indeed, it was not. The Raiders had tried to run the same play on second down, and Bengals’ safety Jesse Bates, III very nearly came up with an interception. So, when they tried it again on fourth down, Pratt was ready.
“They did the same play again, the one Jesse almost picked,” Pratt recalled. “It was the same read for me. I read the quarterback’s eyes. He threw it and tried to make a play, and I took advantage of the opportunity.”
Someone asked Pratt what was more important in that situation, a pbu (pass break up) or a pick? After all, it was 4th down, and either one would have given the Bengals the ball back and ended the game.
Pratt thought about it a second, screwed up his face, and gave a simple, one-word answer - “Pick.”
“Whatcha mean why?” he fired back. “We want a turnover. Turnovers win games. I want a pick. I don’t want no pbu.”
While Pratt hasn’t exactly been a turnover machine for the Bengals this season, he has forced a pair of fumbles and has recovered two fumbles to go with his 57 solo tackles and 34 assists. And this was his second interception of the season.
Pratt was the team’s second-leading tackler Saturday with six solos and three assists, to go along with a tackle for loss and a pass defensed.
“I think Germaine has made a really big step this year,” Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor said. “I think this year he’s made a tremendous jump. Super reliable for us, and as consistent as there is.”
According to Pratt, though, he really didn’t have much choice.
“Over time, you’ve got to develop as a player or you’ll get left behind. You’ve got to improve each and every month.”
That improvement has helped to validate both his standing as a third-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, and Taylor’s faith in him. His interception was symbolic of both.
“I got drafted by Zac,” Pratt said. “We had ups and downs the past two years, and to be able to make that play, to put a stamp of the first class he drafted ever here at the Bengals, so it was a great opportunity.”
And it is only the beginning.
“I’m on to next week,” he said. “That’s my mindset. We’re not stopping. That’s one game.”
Pratt kept the ball he intercepted, and plans to put it up. But he is not satisfied.
“I want another ball,” he said. “The next one is the best one.”