CINCINNATI (AP) — Joe Burrow led an efficient offense that scored on six drives, including two of his touchdown passes, and rookie Evan McPherson made four field goals as the Cincinnati Bengals finally advanced in the playoffs with a 26-19 win over Las Vegas in Saturday’s wild-card game.
It was a victory three decades in the making for the Bengals (11-7). After going from worst to first in the AFC North with a generally young roster, they ended an embarrassing long postseason drought that spanned 31 years and eight consecutive defeats.
“Who Dey” indeed.
Their next opponent will depend on results in the other two AFC wild-card games this weekend.
The Bengals had to survive a Raiders drive to the 9-yard line, but Derek Carr was intercepted on fourth down by Germaine Pratt.
Helped by some problematic officiating by Jerome Boger’s crew that might have allowed Burrow’s touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd to count when it shouldn’t have, the Bengals also extended a lengthy postseason drought for the Raiders (10-8).
Las Vegas, which won its final four games to squeeze into the playoffs, last won in the postseason in the 2002 AFC championship game.
Cincinnati made it 4 for 4 on scoring drives late in the first half, though with some controversy. Burrow rolled right to avoid pressure and threw from close to the sideline. Play continued despite an erroneous whistle by an official, who thought Burrow stepped out of bounds. Boyd caught the 10-yard pass in the back of the end zone for a 20-6 lead. The play counted, to protests from the Raiders, who cited the rule that the ball should be returned to the previous spot.
And Las Vegas lost by seven points.
After Daniel Carlson, the league’s top scorer, made a 47-yard field goal to get Las Vegas off well on the opening possession, the Bengals countered. And kept scoring, though mostly field goals. Burrow took Cincinnati 75 yards in 10 plays, connecting with C.J. Uzomah in the front of the end zone on third down from the 7 to make it 7-3. Burrow threw for 65 yards on the drive and Uzomah celebrated his score with the Ickey Shuffle.
Then the Bengals’ defense stepped up with their sacks leader, T rey Hendrickson, stripping Carr of the ball and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi rumbling 11 yards with it to the Raiders 10. But Las Vegas held and Evan McPherson made a 31-yard field goal.
The mistakes kept coming for the visitors. Peyton Barber touched a botched kickoff heading out of bounds at the Raiders 2, putting them in a hole they couldn’t climb from when Carr was sacked at his 1. All-Pro punter A.J. Cole got off a 58-yarder, but Trent Taylor’s 14-yard return set up Cincinnati once more in prime position.
Ja’Marr Chase, who had nine receptions for 116 yards, kept victimizing the Raiders, his 38-yard reception getting the Bengals to the 6 before they stalled. McPherson made a 30-yarder for a 13-3 lead. It soon was 13-6 as the Raiders did two things right, at last: Josh Jacobs runs of 14 and 35 yards that led to Carlson’s 28-yard field goal.
The Raiders’ impressive two-minute drill covering 80 yards, capped by Carr’s 14-yard pass to Zay Jones with 13 seconds remaining in the second quarter made it 20-13. McPherson, a fifth-round draft pick last April, made two more second-half field goals, as did Carlson.
The crowd of 66,277 fans hungry for some playoff gold had to hold their breath before getting it.
Raiders: LB Divine Deablo (concussion) left in the second quarter moments after being beaten by Uzomah on a 29-yard pass play. DT Quinton Jefferson hurt his foot. CB Brandon Facyson left with a concussion.
Bengals: DT Mike Daniels injured his groin in the first quarter and did not return. Ogunjobi was carted off early in the third period with a foot injury. Hendrickson went out with a concussion in the third quarter.
The Raiders head home to contemplate missed opportunities.
The Bengals move into the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
This story will be updated throughout the game
KICKOFF: It’s 31 degrees and cloudy at Paul Brown Stadium. Bengals win the toss and defer to the second half. Raiders receive the opening kickoff.
FIRST QUARTER: Raiders Daniel Carlson kicks a 47 yard field goal. RAIDERS 3, BENGALS 0 early in quarter
Bengals Joe Burrow passed to C.J. Uzomah to the right for 7 yard touchdown. BENGALS 7, RAIDERS 3 late in quarter.
Bengals Evan McPherson kicked a 31-yard field goal. BENGALS 10, RAIDERS 3 late in quarter.
SECOND QUARTER: Bengals Evan McPherson kicked a 30 yard field goal. BENGALS 13, RAIDERS 3 early in quarter.
Raiders Daniel Carlson kicked a 28-yard field goal. BENGALS 13, RAIDERS 6, midway through quarter.
Bengals Joe Burrow passed to Tyler Boyd to the right for 10 yard touchdown, BENGALS 20, RAIDERS 6 late in quarter.
Raiders Derek Carr passed to Zay Jones down the middle for 14 yard touchdown. BENGALS 20, RAIDERS 13 at halftime
THIRD QUARTER: Bengals Evan McPherson kicked a 43-yard field goal. BENGALS 23, RAIDERS 13 early in quarter.
FOURTH QUARTER: Raiders Daniel Carlson kicked a 34-yard field goal. BENGALS 23, RAIDERS 16 early in quarter.
Bengals Evan McPherson kicked a 28-yard field goal. BENGALS 26, RAIDERS 16, 7 minutes left in quarter.
Raiders Daniel Carlson kicked a 28-yard field goal. BENGAL 26, RAIDERS 19, 4 mins left in quarter.
BENGALS 29, RAIDERS 19 FINAL
Kickoff between Raiders (10-7) and Bengals (10-7) is 1:30 p.m. Saturday
For Las Vegas Raiders star tight end Darren Waller, the hardest part about his five-week absence for injuries and COVID-19 wasn’t the rehabilitation or the inability to play in crucial games down the stretch for his team.
It was all the idle time that was hardest to navigate for a player who battles daily to remain sober after nearly throwing away his career because of drugs and alcohol.
“My disease of addiction, that can have me thinking all kinds of crazy things,” Waller said. “I’ve got to make sure that I’m talking about those things when I have all that idle time. I’ve got my therapist, stay going to (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings. Stayed in the playbook. Working on music. Just staying solid, keeping my head out of that idle time and just into things that I enjoy and stay into the game of football as much as I can.”
Waller made it through that stretch and managed to return to the field for last week’s season finale, which sent the Raiders to their second postseason trip in the past 19 years.
Las Vegas will visit Cincinnati on Saturday in the wild-card round, ending a stretch of futility that weighed on everyone in the organization.
“To see this happen now is awesome to see but I’m also not surprised the least bit that we’re here,” Waller said. “I believe this is a work in progress over the years. It’s awesome to see that happen and build that new culture here. I feel like Al Davis would be proud.”
Waller has been a big part of the turnaround since being plucked off Baltimore’s practice squad late in the 2018 season where he was languishing after being suspended twice for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Waller quickly became a star with the Raiders, catching 90 passes for 1,145 yards in 2019 and then catching a team-record 107 passes for 1,196 yards and nine TDs last season.
Waller hasn’t been as productive this season as he missed one game in October with an ankle injury, then five more following a knee injury on Thanksgiving in Dallas and then one more when he tested positive for COVID-19 just when he was ready to return to practice.
Waller has just 55 catches for 665 yards and two TDs on the season but his presence helps open up the offense for other players.
The Raiders were happy to get Waller back last week against the Chargers, even if he only had two catches for 22 yards on nine targets.
“With Darren and I, there was some rust there and some miscommunications and little things here and there that’s easily fixable and easily correctable,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “I mean we’re correcting it on the field kind of thing and all that.”
The Raiders survived the stretch without Waller, winning three straight games before the finale thanks to slot receiver Hunter Renfrow’s emergence as Carr’s top target, a spark from the running game and an improved defense.
Watching that can sometimes be difficult.
“It’s tough, honestly, because I’m a human being at the end of the day and I’m still trying to shed some of my old thinking patterns,” he said. “So, when I’m not out there, I can think these thoughts of, ‘The team is balling without me being in there. Am I useless?’ Just these irrational thoughts. It is tough for me.”
But Waller said he has learned how to deal with those doubts and knows he plays a role even when he’s not playing and is able to remain locked in on his task.
And his teammates and coaches know how important he is.
“We all know he’s a great player,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “We’ll continue to target Darren as we move forward as long as he’s up and he’s healthy and he’s playing for us, then we’re going to target him. He’s a difficult player to defend and I think everybody understands that.”
NOTES: DT Johnathan Hankins (knee, back) is listed as questionable. … LB Nicholas Morrow, whose IR practice window was opened this week, won’t play Saturday.