Excitement surrounded the City of Cincinnati, Bengals fans, and former players leading into last Saturday's Wild Card game against the Raiders. A confidence endured, different feelings from past playoff appearances, that this team was going to break Cincinnati’s 31-year playoff win drought.
Shayne Graham was one of the many that believed.
“I think everyone just had a vibe that if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen now.” Graham said in an exclusive interview with All Bengals.
Graham is the second all-time leader in points scored in franchise history. He spent seven seasons as the Bengals kicker (2003-2009), experiencing two of Cincinnati's playoff heartbreaks in 2005 and 2009.
Cheers, tears, high fives, and celebratory cigars were had as the Bengals ended the playoff curse and turned a page in team history.
“It was a huge monkey lifted off of everyone’s back,” Graham said. “It was just so exciting. I was happy for not only the organization, but for the fans as well.”
The kicker bounced around the NFL during his career, but his longest tenure was with the Bengals. The Queen City felt like home to him because of the way he was embraced by the community. He knows how much ending the drought means to the fans.
Graham is excited about the present and the future of the Bengals, in large part to Joe Burrow as a leader and the culture established within the team.
Players have bought into Zac Taylor's scheme with Burrow as a foundational piece. The quarterback exudes confidence, but is a silent assassin. He has a contagious, winning persona that carries throughout the locker room and onto the field.
Graham had a déjà vu moment watching the playoff game. Admittedly, he was unable to watch most of the regular season other than highlights as Sundays were game planning days for the University of Florida coaching staff.
After his first full look at Burrow and Cincinnati’s offense, Graham was reminded of the dynamic offense he played with, highlighted by Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Rudi Johnson.
“Having all of those weapons makes that offense extremely potent,” Graham said. “When you need a big play or need a score at the end of the game, it’s nice to know you have an offense that you have confidence in to be able to get the ball down the field and score.”
The big plays have defined this offense. The Bengals were the first team in NFL History to have a 4000 yard passer, 1000 yard rusher, and two 1000 yard receivers all 25 years or younger.
Cincinnati finished the regular season with the seventh most points scored (460). The Bengals had a total of 52 touchdowns; Burrow threw for 34 touchdowns (added two on the ground) and Joe Mixon rushed for 13 scores, while Samaje Perine added one himself.
The high scoring gave Evan McPherson plenty of opportunities to contribute, kicking 130 points in the regular season. The rookie converted four more field goals against the Raiders, which is a Bengals postseason record.
“I think Evan is going to take my name off of every record that’s there,” Graham said. “Even when I thought I was at my best, I don’t think I was anywhere near as good as he was in his first year.”
Graham and McPherson hold a special relationship from their time together at the University of Florida. Graham praised his physical attributes. He was impressed, but not surprised by McPherson’s 9-of-11 mark from 50 yards or more as a rookie.
McPherson has brought stability to a position that's been questioned for years. He's a key piece of the present and future in Cincinnati.
Although the playoff monkey is now off their backs, the Bengals are focused on bigger goals. Players and coaches have downplayed the win. It's merely another step toward the Super Bowl.
The Bengals head to Nashville this week to play the Titans. Tennessee will not only be rested as the AFC’s number one overall seed coming off a bye, but star running back Derrick Henry is expected to return to action for the first time since suffering a foot injury in Week 8.
“There’s no reason that they can’t make it all the way,” Graham said. “They have the talent to do it. They have the mojo going in the right direction.”
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