More than just grab that ball out of the air, he picked off the so-called Curse of Bo Jackson that some thought doomed Cincinnati’s playoff hopes for 31 years or, if you’re a Stripes’ fan and really into self-flagellation, 11,332 days in a row.
The Bengals last playoff win was in 1991. They beat Houston in the first game of that postseason and then fell to the Los Angeles Raiders, 20-10, in the game where L.A.’s star running back, Bo Jackson, was hit from behind and suffered a broken hip that ended his football career.
Over the next dozen years, the Bengals became the worst team in the NFL, which gave birth the malediction of Bo.
It wasn’t until 2005 that the team made the playoffs again, but the Bengals still seemed doomed by one disappointment after another: be it Carson Palmer’s injury or Andy Dalton’s string of postseason interceptions or the self-inflicted wounds that bad actors like Pacman Jones and Vontaze Burfict brought with selfish penalties.
Coming into Saturday, the Bengals were riding an 0-8 streak in the playoffs.
“I’m happy for the city,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said after his team’s dispatch of the Raiders. “I think the city can finally exhale.”
And after the game – in the still-jammed PBS stands – folks weren’t just exhaling, they were inhaling, and chugging ad hugging and partying like it was 1991, or, better yet, 1989, when the team last went to the Super Bowl.
Defensive end Sam Hubbard grew up in Cincinnati and knew better than most what this moment meant:
“To me personally it means the world. Never in my time have we had a playoff win. It feels like we broke a curse.”
When the game ended, he said he looked up in the stands and felt “the city come alive. I was just really happy to be part of the team able to do it.”
Tight end C. J Uzomah, who caught one of Joe Burrow’s two touchdown passes in the game – a 7-yard score in the first quarter – has been with this young team for seven seasons, which makes him an elder statesman in the locker room. He was on the last Bengals’ team to go to the playoffs in 2016.
When the game ended he said he had a private moment. He took a knee and pounded the turf with his fist.
He then headed out onto the field and was about to leave for the dressing room when he looked up at the stadium surrounding him:
“Usually, when I’m walking off the field, the fans have kind of cleared out. (Tonight) I know we had 66,000-something and I bet there were 50,000 still there. You could tell how much this meant to the city for us to get this win. It was an awesome experience.”
On the way out, he walked with running back Joe Mixon, who said over and over: “It’s our time! It’s our time!’
Uzomah agreed: “It is our time. Why not? Why not go win the whole thing? This was just one, but we’re trying to run the table.”
That’s the real streak the Bengals were really talking about after the game.
Not the one 31 years in the past, but the three games ahead of them: The AFC Divisional Game, the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl.
That might sound far-fetched for an 11-7 team, but Taylor sees the possibilities: “We feel like when we’re on top of our game, we can beat any team in the league.”
Raised in Ohio, Burrow knows about the past, but he was focused on the streak ahead, as well:
“Yeah, it felt good. It’s exciting for the city, exciting for the state, but we’re not going to dwell on that.
“This was expected. This isn’t the icing on the top of the cake, this is the cake and we’re moving on.”
As he offered his postgame thoughts, the second-year quarterback – dubbed Joey Franchise – was wearing tinted glasses.
“Cartier,” noted Burrow’s pal, Ja’Marr Chase, his former LSU teammate and now the quarterback’s prime target on the Bengals. Saturday he had 9 catches for 116 yards.
Burrow was asked if there was special significance to the glasses and he laughed:
“Oh no. I just think they’re pretty cool. What do you think?”
He wasn’t the only Bengal caught up in the coolness of the moment. A few other players added special adornment Saturday.
During the game, Chase wore his grillz, the shiny dental jewelry that caps your teeth in gold and sometimes diamonds. But he said he doesn’t wear his every game:
“Last game I got hit real hard and bit my lip.”
After the game Uzomah showed up wearing a No. 82 jersey in honor of former Bengals’ Pro Bowl tight end Rodney Holman.
He said he has seen Holman’s name on in the team meeting room wall since he first got here and did some research:
“I know he’s the last tight end who won a playoff game and went to the Super Bowl with the Bengals. I thought it would be a nice tribute of things to come and a way to pay homage. This is how it’s going to be. We’re gonna run the table and win the whole thing.”
After the game, Taylor said two game balls were given out.
One went to team owner Mike Brown, who he said believed in the vision he and his coaches had even though they only won six games combined in his first two seasons here.
He said if he had been coaching for any other owner in the league he probably wouldn’t have been here for a third season like this is. They would have lost patience and fired him.
The other game ball – rather than going to a player – went to the city of Cincinnati, Taylor said:
“We want to start a new tradition here with playoff wins where we give game balls back to the city and let the fans enjoy it. They can take selfies with it, whatever.
“Some people had their greatest moments tonight, so we want them to get a chance to enjoy these game balls with us. Like I said, the city can exhale and enjoy this team for what it is and take that pressure off those last 31 years.
“Now they can enjoy the ride because we’re not done yet.”