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The good, the bad and the ugly in Bengals’ Wild Card win over Raiders

The Bengals’ played an overall solid game to get their first playoff win in three decades, but there were areas of concern as well.

It’s over. The 31-year postseason drought is officially behind the Cincinnati Bengals.

It was a well-fought game by both teams and the Bengals played a pretty solid game in all three phases. Here are the best and worst facets of Cincinnati’s Wild Card win over the Raiders.

The good

Joe Burrow’s highly-efficient day:

It was cold and it seemed like a good day to attempt to find offensive balance, but we all knew it was going to come down to Burrow’s right arm. If the Bengals were going to have a shot at their first postseason win in 31 years, No. 9 was going to have to be on point and greatly limit turnovers.

He didn’t have any turnovers against the Raiders and their vaunted pass rush (more on that in a second) and weathered through a few drops, an inconsistent rushing attack and one of the oddest postseason officiating performances in recent memory. Burrow finished with 244 passing yards, two scores, a 110.4 passer rating and a 70.5 completion rate...in the postseason.

No turnovers:

You can’t win in the postseason if you turn the ball over. In Cincinnati’s 0-7 postseason stretch under Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati turned the ball over a total of 16 times (an average of about 2.3 times per game).

The Bengals didn’t turn the ball over once, while winning the battle and, lo and behold, they grabbed their first playoff win since MC Hammer was the top music hit-maker.

Creating multiple turnovers:

As mentioned above, Cincinnati grabbed two huge turnovers in this one. Trey Hendrickson beat tight end Foster Moreau to strip-sack Derek Carr, with the play leading to a field goal.

Then, of course, Germaine Pratt became the hero with an interception on the final play of the game at the Bengals’ own 1-yard line. When you win the turnover battle in the postseason—particularly by more than one—it’s a recipe for success.

Ja’Marr Chase:

The Bengals had a win-win situation with their fifth overall pick as both needs and elite players collided for a potential franchise-changing decision between Ja’Marr Chase and Penei Sewell. Cincinnati went with the sizzle of the former choice and never looked back.

Chase had a rookie record-setting day with nine catches in the Wild Card match, to go along with 116 receiving yards and 23 more rushing yards. “Uno” continues to be one of the league’s best wideouts at just 21 years old.

C.J. Uzomah:

The Bengals’ 2021/2022 rally cry of “Why not us?” was coined by the veteran tight end who has asserted himself as a team leader. With other players having quiet days, Uzomah stepped up as a nice secondary option in the passing game.

He finished with six catches (on six targets) for 64 yards and the team’s opening drive touchdown. Aside from all of that, we all feel good for the seven-year veteran seeing his first playoff win.

Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt:

It wasn’t a perfect game from the duo, but they made their share of plays. The two combined for 21 total tackles—12 of them coming from Wilson.

Additionally, Pratt had a tackle-for-loss and the game-sealing interception—just the second of his entire career. While Josh Jacobs gashed the defense a few times, these two played pretty well, especially when considering the personnel attrition on the defensive line in front of them.

Jonah Williams and Frank Pollack:

Pollack put this thing together with duct tape and bandages, but it was enough. A lot was made of Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby wreaking havoc throughout the game, but their respective impacts were limited.

Jonah Williams had a solid outing going up against Ngakoue, while Crosby had a sack with a move inside. Still, Cincinnati only allowed two sacks and five quarterback hits of Burrow with a backup right tackle and a still-seemingly-unsettled right guard position.

No doubt that there were issues along the line and it needs to improve for a further postseason run, but it was enough against a quality defensive line of the Raiders.

Darrin Simmons’ crew:

A rookie kicker in the postseason coldness? No problem for Evan McPherson, who went 4-of-4 on field goals, including a massive 43-yard conversion midway through the third quarter, and another two extra points.

Trent Taylor was capable on punt returns, averaging 13 yards per his two returns. Chris Evans and Kevin Huber had mixed days and McPherson was bailed out on a bad kickoff, but overall, Simmons’ crew had some big moments and accounted for 14 of the team’s 26 points.

Scoring on most possessions...sort of:

In truth, Cincinnati scored on six of their 10 total possessions on the evening. However, when you take into account the “possessions” before the end of the half with 12 seconds left and the kneel down after the Pratt interceptions, Cincinnati was more like 6-for-8 on scoring on drives.

Five of those scores came in, again “essentially”, their first five possessions (if we discount the end-of-second-quarter “drive”). If you want to count that one, then Cincinnati truly scored on their first four possessions—two touchdowns and two field goals.

Feeling good for the long-tenured veterans:

There are only a few Marvin Lewis era holdovers on this roster and those kept were very intentional moves by Zac Taylor and Co. In fact, Uzomah, Joe Mixon, Sam Hubbard, Tyler Boyd and Brandon Wilson all signed extensions to remain with the Bengals under Taylor’s watch. We’ll see what happens with Jessie Bates III this offseason (he had a great game, too, this Saturday), but he can be grouped here, as well.

You have to feel good for these guys who have seen and experienced so much futility, heartbreak and, quite honestly, organizational dysfunction over the years. Alleviating this pressure with the postseason win has to be an enormous relief and could provide momentum for more short-term advantages.

Zac Taylor and city of Cincinnati game balls:

Going into this season, there was a contingent of Who Dey Nation who felt that Taylor may not be the guy for the Bengals. He sounded intelligent, preached patience and building a quality culture, but through the first two seasons, the wins just weren’t there.

Now, Taylor is on the short list for Coach of the Year candidates and it took him three years to wipe away failures from four of his predecessors, dating back 31 years. And, instead of taking credit, he’s shouting out Bengals fans and the city of Cincinnati after the win.

Keep it rolling, coach!

The crowd and the fan base:

Kudos to every single Bengals fan at Paul Brown Stadium. That place was deafening and your impact caused three false starts and a bunch of communication issues for the Raiders’ offense.

And, like the swarms of other Bengals fans across the globe, the ones in attendance were able to savor the curse being broken.

The bad

Rough receiving day for ancillary weapons:

Only five Bengals receivers caught passes on Saturday, as compared to the seven from the Raiders. While Chase and Uzomah had big days and Tyler Boyd chipped in with a couple of big catches, it was largely quiet across the board.

Tee Higgins only had one catch for 10 yards on four targets and after Mixon’s 21-yard reception on the opening drive, his three others netted just seven total yards. We’re probably nit-picking a bit here, but with injuries piling up on defense, points and big plays will need to come from a lot of the weapons over these next few games.

Inconsistent run game:

Cincinnati just couldn’t muster much in the run game this week, after gashing the Raiders with it a couple of months prior. Las Vegas was missing a number of interior defensive linemen, so it seemed like an opportune time to regain offensive balance.

Mixon had just 48 yards on 17 carries (a 2.8 average), while the team plodded to an overall 3.3 yards per carry average, using six different ball-carriers. There was a bright spot not many may have readily noticed because of the low netted plays, but this could have played into Crosby and Ngakoue having quieter days than many thought they would.

Settling for field goals too often:

While the aforementioned run of scoring on consecutive drives was welcomed, Cincinnati too frequently settled for field goals instead of getting in the end zone. You can pass through the Wild Card round at home with that approach—particularly when your kicker nails every attempt—but, as the stakes get higher, the Bengals will need to get into the end zone. This also becomes more paramount with the defensive injuries Cincinnati is currently facing.

A slight uptick in penalties:

One of the biggest and quietest keys to the Bengals’ success this season was in their lack of being penalized and for big yardage. In years past, this was a big issue and many would kill offensive drives and/or allow the opposition to to continue theirs.

This year, Cincinnati averaged 4.4 penalties called against them per game for 37.6 yards per game (per nflpenalties.com). On Saturday, Cincinnati had seven for 56, though the officiating in this game for both teams was...odd.

The ugly

Accrued injuries—particularly on the defensive line:

As the lack of penalties were a key to the Bengals’ 2021 success, so was finally remaining healthy. Their key free agency acquisitions and high draft picks finally avoided the training room, for the most part.

Saturday was a blood bath—particularly on the defensive line. Hendrickson left the game with a concussion, Mike Daniels, who was activated because of Josh Tupou’s previous knee injury, left the game, as well. Now, Larry Ogunjobi is gone for the year with a right foot injury, taking his seven quarterback sacks with him to I.R.

We’ll see what happens the rest of this week with guys like Tupou, Hendrickson and/or Daniels, but getting at least some of those three back would be a huge help against Tennessee.

The second-down run plays:

Because of Joe Goodberry’s sage tweet above, we can potentially understand the mindset of Taylor, Pollack and Brian Callahan on some of these calls. Emphasis on “some”.

They just weren’t working and with Burrow playing at such a high level these past five games (13 touchdowns, zero turnovers from Week 14-Wild Card), it seems criminal to take the ball out of his hands at critical points. This approach will likely change to some degree and we’d be singing a different tune if the runs were netting big plays, but until then...

The officiating crew performance:

Between the errant whistle on the Burrow touchdown to Boyd, the egregious roughing-the-passer call on the Raiders’ final drive, and, yes, some understandable gripes from Las Vegas’ side of things, it was a rough evening for the officials.

The crew had members from different regular season units, causing a lot of their communication issues, but they interjected themselves more often than they should have in this one. The league recognized the issues and the crew may not be officiating another postseason game again this year.