The curse is broken! The wait is over! The Cincinnati Bengals got the monkey off their back!
The Bengals defeated the Raiders 26-19, advancing to the next round of the playoffs for the first time since the 1990 season.
The last team the Bengals beat in the playoffs was the Houston Oilers. They have since been renamed the Tennessee Oilers and then the Tennessee Titans after moving to Memphis and Nashville.
The team that ended the Bengals playoff run in the 1990 season was the Los Angeles Raiders. They went on to become the Oakland Raiders, and are now the Las Vegas Raiders that the Bengals took care of in the Wild Card round.
The point of all that was that a lot has changed since the Bengals last playoff win. The Bengals have gone through a number of head coaches, had two first overall draft selections, and have lost a lot of playoff games.
The Bengals are not ready to go home yet. They want—they expect—to win the Super Bowl.
Here’s what we learned from the Bengals’ playoff win against the Raiders:
Zac Taylor really is that guy
Zac Taylor had an abysmal first two seasons in Cincinnati. They were so bad that, in his career, he still has twice as many losses as wins.
He said in the postgame press conference that if he coached in any other organization in football, he would have been fired after Year 2.
In his first two years, Taylor was 2-13-1 in one-score games. That seemed to indicate that he couldn’t find that extra gear needed to secure the win.
However, in 2021, including the playoff win against the Raiders, Taylor was 5-5 in one-score games. Sure, they were some games in there that the Bengals definitely should have won. But Taylor is showing that he can now close out those tight games.
This Raiders team is a team known for those tough, gritty wins, so to keep them at arms’ length for the entire 60 minutes is huge.
Taylor is also showing something that Lewis seldom did, and win the big games.
Between the season opener, Thursday Night Football against the Jaguars, each game against the Steelers and Ravens, and three must-win games from Weeks 15-17, the Bengals won the games that mattered.
The game against the Raiders wasn’t pretty. There were plenty of opportunities for the Bengals to blow it. But they held on, and Taylor made history.
The defense won the game
The Bengals scored more points in this game than they had in the postseason since the infamous 1991 victory. The Bengals scored 41 points on the Oilers back in 1991, and then scored 17 or less in their next eight playoff games.
In fact, the week after they put up a 41-spot on a team that has long since moved cities and changed their name, they scored only 10 points on the Los Angeles Raiders. How’s that for full circle?
But the Bengals’ offense needed some help, and the defense gave it to them.
Normally, the Bengals would want to put the game in the hands of Joe Burrow and let the offense end it. But when the Bengals opted for a field goal on fourth-and-one in the red zone in the fourth quarter, they knew their defense would have to step up.
Their defense, which by the way, had half of its starters on the line out for the game. The Bengals had next to no pass rush, so the onus would have to be on the back seven.
And the defense came through. The defense had been forcing the Raiders to kick field goals in the red zone all game. The Raiders had four red zone possessions, but kick three field goals from inside the 20.
But with only 17 seconds, a field goal wasn’t good enough. The Raiders needed a touchdown. Germaine Pratt stopped them from getting one with a game-clinching interception.
The defensive line needs to get healthy
The defense line needs to get healthy...or Geno Atkins.
For weeks, we have been saying that the Bengals need pressure from someone other than Trey Hendrickson. It looked like the Bengals were headed in that direction. Sam Hubbard and B.J. Hill got sacks, Larry Ogunjobi got a fumble recovery, and D.J. Reader kept drawing holding penalties.
But the injury bug struck, and hit the Bengals hard. Mike Daniels was injured on the first drive. Ogunjobi and Hendrickson also had to leave the game. The Bengals’ front four were depleted in the second half.
In the postgame press conference, Sam Hubbard said he didn’t get subbed off the entire second half. Cam Sample came in to spell Reader Hill at defensive tackle, with Khalid Kareem playing most of the snaps at left end.
With Tupou, Ogunjobi, and Daniels all out likely out for next week, the Bengals will need to get healthy or get help.
The offense needs to get in the red zone
An area that hasn’t been particularly bothersome for the Bengals is the red zone.
The Bengals were only two of five in the red zone, scoring only two touchdowns to three field goals. The only other score was a field goal from the 25-yard line, so the Bengals did not do well from up close.
This year, the Raiders gave up touchdowns on 77 percent of their red zone possessions on defense. The fact that the Bengals could only score touchdowns on 40 percent is not ideal.
During the season, the Bengals only scored touchdowns on 58 percent of their red zone possessions. They should have exceeded that against the worst red zone defense in recent history.
Bengals fans are awesome
Bengals fans have been waiting for this for three decades. And they were 100 percent deserving of a game ball for their performance.
Fans showed up and broke Paul Brown Stadium’s record for attendance. Then, they got loud.
There were two significant false starts in the first quarter that Bengals fans should be proud of.
The first was when the Raiders were in the red zone. It turned a second-and-one into second-and-five. They ended up getting into a fourth down on, and settled for a field goal.
The second one was on their next possession. That one turned second-and-ten into second-and-fifteen. The Raiders got to third-and-eight on the next play, and needed to pass to convert. This led to the Hendrickson sack, which in turn led to another field goal.
Between those two plays, that’s a seven point swing. The Bengals won by seven points.
I’m not saying that the crowd alone was responsible for inducing those penalties. But I’m also not not saying it.