2021 NFL playoffs: What we learned from Bengals' Wild Card Round victory over Raiders

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1. Joe Burrow's legend grows. The Bengals needed to hit rock bottom in order to find their savior, and less than two years after drafting him, he wrote the latest (and to this point, greatest) chapter of his young career. Burrow completed 24 of 34 passes for 244 yards, two touchdowns and a 110.4 passer rating, teaming with favorite target Ja'Marr Chase for nine completions and 116 yards. As it had in the Bengals' stretch run to the playoffs, the LSU connection's rapport powered Cincinnati's offense, keeping the Bengals on the move and opening up targets elsewhere. Burrow had his own signature moment for the historic night for the Bengals, channeling his inner Joe Montana to throw a touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd while fading out of bounds. There appeared to be an errant whistle during the play, which, by NFL rules, meant the play should've been ruled dead and replayed. Senior VP of Officiating Walt Anderson, however, said referees determined the whistle came after Boyd's TD catch.


2. Derek Carr and these Raiders deserved better. Las Vegas wasn't supposed to be here, but mounted a frantic playoff push in the season's final month, earning a bid and bringing its positive momentum to Cincinnati. The main problem, though: Cincinnati's feel-good run was a little stronger, and the Bengals played a little cleaner Saturday. Carr was under a lot of pressure early in the game and predictably fumbled, but the Raiders held up well enough to minimize the damage, limiting Cincinnati to a field goal. That was the case on a few occasions, with the Raiders playing bend-but-don't-break defense to keep the game within arm's reach. And as they'd done on multiple occasions in their run to Super Wild Card Weekend, the Raiders mounted one last comeback effort but couldn't come through, with Carr throwing a game-sealing interception. Las Vegas will look back at this game and lament the penalties (7), the Boyd touchdown, the promising drives that ended in field goals, the 10 third downs the Raiders didn't convert, and the fact they're headed home. But they gave a heck of an effort to even get there, which is a significant achievement considering the massive amount of adversity they -- and interim head coach Rich Bisaccia -- had to overcome this season.


3. Hail to the kickers. The Bengals and Raiders made history (more on that below) with their trusted boots, turning stalled drives into scoring drives with incredible consistency. Daniel Carlson has been automatic since Week 10 and Saturday was no different, as the kicker drilled all four of his field-goal attempts and his lone extra-point try to account for 13 of Las Vegas' 19 total points. Evan McPherson, meanwhile, was just as good, making all four of his field goals and both of his extra-point attempts to account for 14 of Cincinnati's 26 points. It's not often we direct our attention to kickers for positive outcomes -- usually it's because they've missed a kick at a terrible time. Neither did so here, and thus deserve commendation.


4. Cincinnati left too much on the field. Like the Raiders, the Bengals watched multiple promising scoring drives fail to reach the end zone. Cincinnati twice gained possession in Las Vegas territory in the first half and could only get field goals out of them. The most frustrating came early, when Larry Ogunjobi's recovery of a Carr fumble put the Bengals on the Raiders' 15, and Cincinnati gained a whopping two net yards before settling for a field goal. As noted above, both teams can thank their kickers for repeatedly coming through. But Burrow made it clear after the win the Bengals are already preparing for next week's opponent, and there's a chance they won't win if they don't fully capitalize on opportunities such as these next weekend. They might also need a put-away drive, something they couldn't put together today. There's room for growth, no doubt.


5. The NFL's longest playoff drought has been quenched. After 31 years, the Bengals have finally won a playoff game. The relief seemed to stretch well beyond Cincinnati and truly feels like more than just a feel-good story. This might be the start of something special for a young, promising Bengals team that clearly has its man at quarterback for the next decade-plus and is watching its coach gain the gusto needed to chase a championship. After losing our dear friend and colleague Chris Wesseling -- a Cincinnati native who grew up a Bengals fan -- to cancer less than a year ago, this one felt special for us at NFL Media, too. Unlike the many others of years, coaches and quarterbacks past, this Wesstivus had a happy ending.


NFL Research: The Raiders and Bengals combined to make eight field goals, tying the single-game NFL playoff record most recently matched in the Steelers-Broncos Divisional Round meeting in the 2015 postseason. It was also the first playoff game in NFL history in which each team made four-plus field goals.


Next Gen Stat of the game: Cincinnati pressured Derek Carr on 10 of 23 dropbacks with Trey Hendrickson on the field, and recorded a pressure on just three of 33 dropbacks without Hendrickson, who departed early due to a concussion.

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