Wise Thoughts

Kevin Wiseman

As the Las Vegas Raiders embarked on a two-minute drive in last Saturday’s playoff game at Cincinnati, anyone who would describe themselves as a long-time Bengals’ fan had to feel like they had seen this scene before.

The Bengals led by seven points, needing one more big play to secure a playoff victory. The franchise had been in this position plenty of times before, only to see the other team find the upper hand.

You couldn’t blame a Bengals’ fan for getting nervous. We saw seven straight wild card playoff losses in the Marvin Lewis era, good teams that had plenty of talent but couldn’t get over the hump for one reason or another.

Something was different last Saturday though. The Raiders lined up for a fourth-and-goal with less than 20 seconds remaining. Derek Carr dropped back to try and find a receiver. Cincinnati’s Germaine Pratt stepped in front of the play for the interception at the 2-yard line.

I was one of the 66,277 fans inside Paul Brown Stadium. When the fourth-down play was stopped, when Pratt had the interception, it was 31 years of frustration washing away as the crowd lost its collective mind.

This time, the other team had to walk away with the defeat. Fans were weeping with joy in the stands. It was the Bengals’ day and the who-dey chants seemingly never stopped afterwards.

The win was a long time coming for the Bengals and their fans, as the Joe Burrow era is off and running in Cincinnati.

Being a Cincinnati fan usually means expecting the worst. Let’s not forget that the Reds haven’t won a baseball playoff series since 1995.

Burrow is helping change the culture. To watch Burrow since he was in high school is to believe that he’ll find a way to win.

Covering his high school games, whether it was a showdown with Tri-Valley or Columbus DeSales or Toledo Central Catholic, you always felt like Burrow and his teammates would have something up their sleeve. They usually always did.

And everyone knows what happened when Burrow finally go the chance to play collegiately at LSU. A Heisman Trophy and national title followed.

So it really should come as no surprise that success continues to follow Burrow, even at the professional ranks in Cincinnati.

Hearing Burrow’s weekly comments with the Cincinnati media usually sum up one of the reasons he’s so successful. When Burrow and the Bengals beat the Steelers for the second time this season, he was asked what that meant for the team.

I’m paraphrasing, but Burrow simply said ‘it means we’re 2-0 against the Steelers.’ Nothing to get too excited about, there were bigger goals ahead.

When the Bengals blew out the Ravens for the second time and Burrow passed for 525 yards, his postgame confidence probably rattled Baltimore, who thought Cincinnati might have run up the passing yards late in the game.

Two franchises that have been thorns in the Bengals side in Pittsburgh and Baltimore were humbled this year by Cincinnati.

And Burrow expects that to be the case every season.

“I think the fans were very excited but I try to downplay it and all that because this is how it’s going to be from here on out,” Burrow said about the franchise breaking the playoff drought. “It was a great win for us but this is the standard for the bare minimum every year going forward.”

It’s the same confident and direct answer Burrow would give when he was 16 years old. From that standpoint, nothing has changed even if he’s now competing against the best players and coaches in the world.

Saturday was only the sixth playoff victory for a Bengals’ franchise in existence since 1968. If one quarterback can turn those fortunes around, it’s Burrow.

Watching Cincinnati games has a different feel now. When the Bengals fell behind against Jacksonville earlier in the season, I was still confident they would win. And they did, Burrow leading a last-second drive for a winning field goal.

When Cincinnati trailed San Francisco 20-6 in the fourth quarter in December, I knew Burrow had a comeback in him. He did, sending it to overtime before the 49ers eventually got the win.

In years past, you dreaded getting the playoff rematch with the Steelers. It happened in 2005 and 2015, years the Bengals won the division only to lose home playoff games against Pittsburgh.

That feeling wasn’t there for me this year. Had the Bengals drawn Pittsburgh or Baltimore again in the postseason, I was confident Cincinnati would win for a third time.

The Bengals have already done a good job surrounding Burrow with talent. Ja’Marr Chase, Burrow’s LSU teammate, could go down as one of the best first-round picks in team history, as the receiver should be a lock to win Rookie of the Year.

And when the draft rolls around in April, the Bengals can look to further shore up the offensive line now that they have their skill players in place.

But the Bengals have their quarterback in Burrow. He played three seasons at Athens and two at LSU, and he’s still a legend in both places.

Imagine what the possibilities are if Burrow plays his entire career in the Queen City? He’s already a fan favorite in his second season, how much can be accomplished if he plays there as long as Aaron Rodgers has been in Green Bay?

Cincinnati travels to Tennessee to take on the No. 1 Titans on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in the divisional playoffs. The winner advances to the AFC Championship game.

The Bengals have never won a road playoff game in their history and have only played in two conference championship games.

It’s another opportunity for Burrow and the Bengals to rewrite the team’s record book.

Anything is possible with the ball in No. 9’s hands.

Kevin Wiseman is the sports editor at The Athens Messenger. Send him an email at kwiseman@athensmessenger.com.


Email at kwiseman@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @KevinWmessenger

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