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Three Down Look: What Curse? Business as Usual for Bengals in 26-19 Playoff Victory

The Bengals won a playoff game for the first time since 1991 and did it in thrilling fashion.

CINCINNATI — At last.

Bengals fans and the entire City of Cincinnati let out a sigh of relief when the Orange and Black dispatched the Raiders 26-19 in the AFC Wild Card round.

Cincinnati's offense sputtered in the second half, but the staples that helped them surprise the entire league ensured they advanced to Week 20. Joe Burrow was Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase was Ja'Marr Chase, and thankfully, Jessie Bates played like the All-Pro safety we expected to see more of this season.

The 2021-22 Bengals cleared another hurdle and are advancing in the playoffs for the first time in 11,325 days. 

Let's dive into our Three Down Look at how everything played out.

Back-Shoulder Balling To More Records

Another game, another record day for Chase, who played like a seasoned vet en route to the most single-game receiving yards by a rookie in Bengals playoff history. He finished with a team-high nine catches for 116 yards, along with three carries for 23 yards.

The Raiders stayed in their Cover 3 shell throughout the game and only blitzed Burrow twice. They were not going to be beaten over the top or by an open receiver left free by blitzers. Zac Taylor and Brian Callahan were just fine with that.

Tip the cap to the Bengals' coaching staff on Sunday. They featured their best player even though the Raiders placed a blockade downfield. Burrow fed Chase a high dose of back-shoulder passes on money downs early in the game, and the rookie maintained his efficiency reeling in nine of 12 targets.

Chase finished first among all players in total EPA on Saturday (11.3 EPA) and had the fourth-highest Pro Football Focus grade (82.9). He was a big part of Burrow's bonkers plus-11.7 completion percentage over expectation. Chase worked hard over the past month to identify more wrinkles in zone coverage and adjust his routes accordingly.

He aced the first big-playoff test and showed his work along the way.

Week 17, Week 18, Week 19...Doesn't Matter to No. 9

Top-15 quarterbacks in the NFL play well most of the season, check most of the boxes, and make you feel like if just one or two things broke right they could go on a run.

Burrow is not a top-15 quarterback. He sits on the Mt. Rushmore of 2021 NFL passers, and those players bring a different level of consistency. It was refreshing to see how much he and the rest of the team expected a win.

"It's a great win for us, for the city and the organization, but we expected this," Burrow said after the Bengals' 26-19 win over the Raiders. "It's not gonna be a big celebration like it was when we won the division. We took care of business, onto the next round."

Joey Franchise finished 24-of-34 for 244 yards, two touchdowns, and a 110.4 passer rating. He was the Bengals' highest-graded player (89.6 PFF Grade).

"This isn't the icing on top of the cake or anything," Burrow continued. "This is the cake and we're moving on; this is the playoffs. If you dwell on this one too much, you'll get beat in the next round."

That's the kind of mentality Bengals fans want to hear. Celebrations are for winning divisions and making championship rounds/Super Bowls. Burrow may not accept the "Joe Cool" nickname out of respect for Joe Montana's greatness, but that's exactly what he is. Never too high, never too low and always looking for the kill shot.

Burrow is now 7-0 dating back to college in "do or die" games. Over the past three contests, he's completed 76.5% of his passes for 1,215 yards, 10 touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 136.4 passer rating. In this stretch, he's been sacked nine times and had eight passes dropped, raising his adjusted completion rate to 86.7%.

He is the most talented quarterback in team history and just the third No. 1 pick in NFL history to win a playoff game in their first two seasons (Michael Vick, Andrew Luck).

The throw that is burned into my eyes forever is one that only the greats attempt, let alone complete. Watch his absolute dime to C.J. Uzomah below.

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I haven't heard much about that "weak arm" over the most important stretch of the season. Funny how that works.

Bates Answers The Bell

The past few months have been a dream for Bengals fans, but one player hasn't reaped the on-field benefits as much. Jessie Bates is having a down year compared to his All-Pro campaign in 2020, but he made sure to be one of the most impactful defenders on Saturday.

Bates finished with six tackles and tied his career-high with three pass breakups. Dr. Jekyll replaced Mr. Hyde against the Raiders. For perspective, Bates had four pass breakups all regular season and never multiple in one game.

The roving safety showed the importance of a back-end playmaker. He tallied the second-highest PFF grade on the defense (85.6), and all three pass breakups were crucial. Hunter Renfrow came into the game as the Raiders hottest weapon, and Bates helped limit him to the lowest EPA of any receiver in the game (-0.16 EPA/play) besides Tee Higgins (-0.28 EPA/play).

He was pivotal in the Bengals' red-zone defense, which allowed the Raiders to score one touchdown on five trips close to paydirt. It was fitting that a player like Germaine Pratt iced the game on fourth down.

Pratt (79.1 PFF Grade) finished with nine tackles (one TFL) and this game-sealing interception.

Other fans and I have ripped the linebacker apart at points over the past three seasons, but just like his head coach, Pratt kept working, kept improving, and put himself in a spot to make the biggest play of his football career.

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Onto Week 20.

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