Joe Burrow leads Bengals past Raiders for Cincinnati's first playoff win since 1990-91 season
On fourth down in the middle of the second quarter, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow heard the team was going for it and then looked up at the crowd. He waved his arms downward to shush the crowd, and the 66,277 fans immediately fell silent.
Burrow called an audible at the line of scrimmage and moved to take a quarterback sneak. Then he signaled for wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase to motion to the middle of the field, tossed the ball to Chase and watched him run for an easy first down.
Burrow played like he had the entire game and had the entire stadium in the palm of his hand. He had a full grasp of the moment and the 31-year stretch without a playoff win for the franchise.
The Bengals drafted Burrow to change everything in moments like this. On Saturday, as the Bengals beat the Las Vegas Raiders, 26-19, Burrow delivered exactly the way the franchise envisioned.
"It's exciting for the city and for the state but we're not going to dwell on that," Burrow said. "We're moving forward. We're ready for whoever we've got to play next."
This time, there was no errant pass, no fumble and no penalty that derailed the moment.
There was no ACL injury, no locker room disruption. The longest drought without a playoff win in all of North American sports is over.
"I was kind of overcome with a little bit of emotion after the game," Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah said. "This is what you work for. For it to be this long and this hard, it’s just been a long time coming."
With 14:17 left in the fourth quarter, Burrow got the ball with the Bengals leading by a touchdown. He demonstrated the calm presence and the clutch factor the Bengals were hoping for when they drafted him. Burrow used all of his receivers to lead the team down the field, and at the end of the seven-minute drive the Bengals had a 10-point lead.
The Raiders got the ball back down seven points with two minutes left. After the Raiders made it inside the red zone, the Bengals defense got its moment on fourth and goal from the 9-yard line. Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt intercepted a pass at the goal line, and Paul Brown Stadium celebrated a Bengals playoff win for the first time.
The Bengals did it. They’re advancing to the second round, and the biggest difference was Burrow.
"He’s playing tremendous football," Chase said. "I don’t think he’s playing any different from when he was playing in 2019 (when he won the Heisman Trophy and LSU won the College Football Playoff).
"He’s just getting smarter as he goes on."
The Bengals offense looked exactly like what the team was looking for when it hired head coach Zac Taylor in 2019. Chase was the exact type of play-maker that Taylor thought the team needed this offseason. And Burrow played like a top-five quarterback in the NFL.
The Bengals opened the game with a statement that they wouldn't let one of the best defensive lines in football take away what they did best. Despite the Raiders' standout pass rush, the Bengals opened their first drive on offense with consecutive plays out of an empty formation.
Taylor put his full faith in Burrow, who did what he has his entire life in win-or-go-home games. On the offense’s first drive of the game, Burrow completed 5 of his 7 passes for 65 yards on a touchdown drive.
Even though the Raiders have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, Burrow created explosive plays from outside the pocket. In the second quarter, the Bengals took a 20-6 lead on a play where Burrow scrambled for seven seconds and found wide receiver Tyler Boyd in the back of the end zone just before Burrow ran out of bounds.
Then in the fourth quarter, Burrow had his first postseason moment with the Bengals. The field goal drive finished a two-year process of changing the outside perception of the franchise.
"Never in my lifetime have we had a playoff win," Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard said. "I feel like we broke a curse. Really, just looking up in the stands, seeing the city come alive, it's hard to put into words what it means to everybody in the city."
Even though the Bengals haven't been in the playoffs since the 2015 season and even though the Bengals have a young roster, the players were ready for the moment.
Burrow grew up in Athens, Ohio, where he heard about the win drought from a few friends, but it wasn’t something he felt a connection to when the Bengals drafted him. Veterans like Mike Hilton and Trey Hendrickson and Bell saw the drought from a distance, but they said they didn’t care about the Bengals' lack of playoff success when they signed in Cincinnati.
So of course it was this group of players who did what looked impossible in Cincinnati for so long. The streak is over, and it ended because of a Bengals team that doesn’t bear any burden of what has happened before 2022.
The Bengals are undefeated in the postseason with Burrow as their quarterback. In the win over the Raiders, a franchise and the largest ever crowd at a Bengals home game followed his lead.
"It's exciting, but this is expected," Burrow said. "This isn't like the icing on top of the cake or anything. This is the cake, and we're moving on."