Forget about winning. The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC wild-card game, thanks to their defense.
A handful of Bengals defenders joined forces for the game-winning play with the Ravens on the doorstep at the 1-yard line with a chance to take the lead a few minutes into the fourth quarter. Linebackers Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson intercepted Baltimore quarterback Tyler Huntley as he attempted to soar toward the end zone and cross the goal line. Sam Hubbard then picked up the loose ball in the backfield, ran it 98 yards, and scored.
“Credit to Logan Wilson punching it out,” Hubbard said about the play in his postgame news conference. “Then just being at the right place at the right time, got a few blocks along the way. And I was just worried about getting tracked down. I’m glad I made it to the end zone.”
The game was on the verge of becoming a seven-point Ravens advantage when Hubbard’s outstanding return turned it into a Bengals lead of 24-17 that lasted the rest of the way.
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Cincinnati’s win probability increased from 46% to 88% when Hubbard weaved down the field for the score, followed by a convoy of three other Bengals who eventually tripped up a swiftly closing Mark Andrews at the 20-yard line before he could attempt any Steve Tasker-inspired dramatics.
“Yeah, I was watching on the big screen,” Hubbard admitted. “I was like ‘He’s coming, somebody block!’ I’m like please, please don’t get caught. That’s all I was thinking about.”
According to NFL Research, Hubbard’s play set records for the most extended go-ahead score by a player in a playoff game’s fourth quarter and the most extended fumble return for a touchdown in postseason history.
Even considering the current situation—facing a goal-line possession—the Bengals desperately needed Hubbard’s valor.
Ja’Marr Chase received 12 targets for nine catches for 84 yards and 209 yards from Joe Burrow, who was adequate but unspectacular. The NFL’s third-ranked scoring defense eventually restrained the offense, trailing 10-9 at halftime before tying the score into the final frame.
The Bengals are heading to the divisional round! #BALvsCIN pic.twitter.com/Ltf4mnFYic
— NFL (@NFL) January 16, 2023
“He’s kinda what this whole thing is built on,” Burrow said about Hubbard. “Toughness, hard work, leadership, those are the guys we try to bring in here. And he’s one of my best friends and he comes up with big plays over and over and over again. He’s a great leader, gets his work done, has a constant positive attitude in the locker room, exactly the kind of guy you want on your team.”
The offense has an opportunity to right things next Sunday in the Divisional Round against the second-seeded Bills, thanks to Hubbard, a native of Cincinnati.
Hubbard’s dash will be remembered in history as the spark that ignited Cincy’s first-ever Super Bowl triumph drive if the Bengals win in Buffalo and then add two more victories to their season.
“You can’t replicate a feeling like that in life,” Hubbard said. “It’s extraordinary.”
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