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The Cincinnati Bengals ended their 31-year drought without a playoff win as they defeated the Las Vegas Raiders 26-19 on Saturday afternoon.
In front of 66,277 fans, the largest crowd the Bengals have ever had at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati started the game on fire and never cooled off. The Bengals never trailed after starting the game down three to the Raiders despite a second-half comeback by quarterback Derek Carr and slot wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. Cincinnati's defense sacked Carr three different times and won the battle at the line of scrimmage for majority of the night.
Despite it being their first playoff appearance in the NFL, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase were virtually unstoppable all night. The Bengals' defense, led by linebacker Germaine Pratt, won the game for Cincinnati as he intercepted Carr's intended pass to wide receiver Zay Jones on fourth down from the 9-yard line with 0:17 left to play.
"Germaine Pratt, it's really all of those guys but I thought that was very fitting because he's been a guy who's been all about taking the ball away all season and he got the one earlier in the season against Minnesota," head coach Zac Taylor said following the game. "He's done it multiple times and he's always a guy when we watch the tape who's trying to punch the ball out, rake it out, whatever he's got to do. For him to get the pick in the last play of the game is really just fitting of what he's been all about."
'This is the cake': Bengals finally advance in postseason with win over Raiders behind Joe Burrow
Taylor gave out two game balls after the win, one to Bengals owner Mike Brown and the second to the city of Cincinnati.
"The first one is to Mike Brown just because there's nobody who is more passionate about this team, this organization," Taylor said. "There's no owner that sits at every walk-through, every practice in the freezing cold, the rain, the snow. This means the world to him. The second one is to the city of Cincinnati. We want to start new traditions here with playoff wins where we give game balls to the city and let the fans enjoy it."
Here's what we learned from the Bengals wild-card round win over the Raiders:
Joe Burrow continues to be elite in must-win games for Bengals
In his first playoff game, Burrow delivered on the biggest stage he's seen yet in his professional career. Burrow was dialed in from the beginning of the game finishing the night completing 24 of his 34 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns.
Following the game, when asked what the moment felt like, Burrow said he was pleased to get the win but was disappointed with how Cincinnati's offense played in the second half.
"It felt good," Burrow said. "We could have played better on offense in the second half so that was disappointing. I thought we played really well in the first half and you know made plays when we needed too. Defense stepped up in the fourth quarter so it's an exciting win and now it's on to the next one."
Burrow's demeanor as he took the podium was as to be expected. The 25-year-old remains poised and calm no matter the situation and doesn't ride the emotional roller coaster. It's what allows him to deliver when his team needs him most.
The Bengals were held to six points in the second half after scoring 20 in the first. Evan McPherson's two field goals were the only points Cincinnati could muster after a hot start. Several offensive players said they felt the offense tightened up and made mistakes they don't typically make in the second half.
As much as the city of Cincinnati will celebrate the win, Burrow reiterates the Bengals are focused on their next game and that remains the sole focus.
"It's exciting for the city, the state," Burrow said. "But we're not going to dwell on that. We're moving forward and whoever we play next, we'll be ready to execute the game plan."
No such thing as a rookie wall for Ja'Marr Chase who shined in first NFL playoff game
If you were looking for the moment in which Chase would hit the so-called rookie wall, it's not happening. Chase finished with nine catches for 116 yards.
Chase has all but solidified the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. And the further the Bengals make it into the postseason, the more he'll garner attention. He's also become the Bengals' solidified No. 1 wide receiver.
Even when an opposing defensive coordinator creates a game plan centered around trying to slow Chase down, he continues to produce. Chase is also no stranger to a big stage and thrives in moments when he can give his team the spark they need.
"My confidence is pretty high," Chase said following the game. "I just try and stay as calm as I can so I can not overthink anything while the game is going on. I just try and play my game."
Burrow's favorite target couldn't be stopped on Saturday night, no matter what coverage the Raiders threw at the Bengals. It doesn't surprise Burrow when Chase plays like he did against Las Vegas, he's come to expect it. Chase's confidence in himself could propel him to being the Bengals' most valuable weapon in the playoffs.
If he doesn't think he can be stopped, what does that mean for every defense he's about to go up against? The Bengals don't know who their next opponent is yet, but regardless of who will line up against Chase, Taylor has to feel good about Chase's odds against anyone.
"I’m like that every game no matter who’s across from me," Chase said. "I have that mentality that I’m unstoppable. I don’t think I can be stopped."
Bengals defense makes the stops when they needed one most
Cincinnati's defense suffered attrition all game long as the Bengals lost Pro Bowl defensive end Trey Hendrickson and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. As the Raiders continued to claw back into the game, the Bengals' defense continued to make stops and forced field goals when it mattered most. Hendrickson's strip-sack that resulted in a fumble recovery by Ogunjobi in the first quarter gave the Bengals a two-score lead and set the tone.
Defensive end Sam Hubbard, cornerback Mike Hilton, safety Jessie Bates and Pratt all stepped up and made important plays when needed. None bigger than Pratt's game-sealing interception. The Bengals kept the Raiders to 1-of-5 in the red zone.
"We had a lot of guys go down on the defensive line and guys stepped up," Hubbard said. "Kind of just had to grind it out. I think the love we have for each other as teammates is what allowed us to bow up at the end in the red zone so many times."
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: What we learned from Bengals' wild-card win over Raiders