Greg Hoard
Greg Hoard

Born in Indiana and educated in Georgia, Greg Hoard came to Cincinnati in the winter of 1979 as a columnist for the Cincinnati Post sports department, and joined the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1984 as the beat writer for the Cincinnati Reds.  He has received numerous awards for his work. In 1990, he left journalism for television. Hoard worked for WLWT-TV from 1990 through 1993 as sports director and spent 12 years as sports director at WXIX-TV. His written work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, Baseball America, Baseball Digest and NFL Game Day. He has appeared on ESPN and NBC’s The Today Show. Greg is the author of three books: Joe, Rounding Home and Heading for Home; Gary Burbank, Voices in My Head; and, most recently, Hannan’s Way, An Unlikely Trek Through Life. He is currently working on a baseball memoir, parts of which he will share here.

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The Bengals thumbed their noses at history and the odds to capture the AFC championship.  Now can they complete the odyssey, and will the Brown family even keep the band together?  Stay tuned.

Cincinnati, OH – Anything is possible now. The Bengals are going to the Super Bowl. They did the improbable, achieved the unexpected. On Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, they shed the tawdry trappings of years of failure and embarrassment and won the AFC Championship.

They defeated the defending two-time champion Kansas City Chiefs, 27-24, and did so in heart-pounding fashion. They won in overtime on Evan McPherson’s 31-yard field goal, this after Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell turned in the defensive play of the game.

They overcame an 18-point first half deficit and, in one stretch, scored 21 unanswered points. Most important, when they needed it most they performed in the two areas viewed as a weaknesses.

Columnist Greg Hoard is a former beat writer of the Cincinnati Reds for the Cincinnati Post.

“Our defense was unbelievable in the second half. They really picked it up,” Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said in the immediate wake of the win. “And our (offensive) line did a good job, too. I thought they played well all day…I’m a little speechless right now. I don’t know what to say.”

There was so much he could have said. He could have pointed to the fact that the Bengals performance was the biggest comeback victory in playoff history. He could have chastised critics or drawn attention to the fact that—all said and done—he had outdone and outplayed Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, proving that he, too, is a remarkable escape artist and a bit of a magician.

Instead, and true to form, he was humble and soft-spoken. He praised his teammates, not only their performance but their work ethic, as well.

“We will celebrate tonight,” Burrow said, “and we will get back to work tomorrow. We’re not done yet.”

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If those words sound familiar, they should. It has been his refrain throughout the playoffs. Sunday, however, he added another sentence and he measured the words.

“There’s still one more to go,” he said.

For the first half, it appeared that Sunday’s game would be the Bengals last. The Chiefs rushed out to a 21-3 lead. The Bengals only dent in the Chiefs’ defense, a 32-yard field goal by McPherson on Cincinnati’s second possession of the game.

As the quarter began to wind down, Burrow hooked up with Samaje Perine for 41 yards and a TD. It was 21-10 and the game was approaching the turning point.

With time running out on the half, KC drove down the Bengals goal line. With less than a minute to play in the half, they began to fiddle with time and position.

Mahomes reportedly told Andy Reid he wanted one more chance to score a touchdown before the end of the first half.

With seconds remaining and on 4th-and-1, Mahomes reportedly told Chiefs coach Andy Reid he wanted another chance to score a touchdown rather than go for the “gimme” field goal. Reid relented in what proved to be a monumental mistake.

Mahomes pass to Tyreek Hill was complete, but Hill was stopped short of the goal line. It was a dumb move. The Chiefs came away with no points and, at the same time, they gave the Bengals a huge psychological lift.

In addition to that break, the Bengals had something else going for them: the memory of their win over the Chiefs January 2nd at Paul Brown Stadium.

At halftime of that game, the Chiefs led 21-10 just as they did Sunday. Back in January, KC had out-gained Cincinnati by 140 yards, just as they had Sunday. The Bengals came back and won that game, 34-31.

They did it once, why not again?

From that point on, nothing was the same. The Chiefs played tentatively. Their intensity level dropped while the Bengals appeared more aggressive on offense and defense. They were not shaken—in the least.

It appeared that the Chiefs were playing not to lose, notching it back, rather than coming at the Bengals. But on those occasions when KC did come after Burrow, he proved was ready.

“With that defense and their coverage I knew I was going to have to make some plays with my legs. So I was ready for that,” he said.

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He ran for 25 yards and much of that coming after he appeared to be in the grasp of KC’s defenders.

Meanwhile, the Bengals defense leaned on Mahomes and the Chiefs, relying on what Vonn Bell referred to as “elite communication”.

KC did not punt once in the first half. On their first two possessions of the second half they were forced to kick, ending up with four forced punts.

Mahomes was intercepted twice. The first by defensive end B.J. Hill ended a string of 132 pass attempts in the playoffs without a pick.

And the Bengals kept coming. McPherson made it 21-13 with a 31-yard field goal. They tied the game at 21 on a short toss and great catch by Ja’MARR Chase and the two-point conversion to Trent Taylor.

McPherson connected from 52 yards, making it 24-21 Bengals and the clock running toward the two-minute warning.

KC had never been shutout in the second half of a playoff game and Harrison Butker’s 44-yard field knotted the game at 24-all.

KC won the toss and Burrow winced. “Usually, when you lose the coin flip to those guys, you’re going home.  They are going to go down and score,” Burrow said.

It didn’t work out that way.

After two incomplete passes, Mahomes tried to thread a pass to Hill. Jessie Bates leaped and got a hand on the ball, deflecting it into Bell’s hands.

The man with the plan. Will owner Mike Brown do what’s necessary to sustain their current success?

“We showed what we can do and we gonna keep on doing it,” Bell said, speaking of the Bengals defense.

The Bengals took over at midfield and took the game with a 31-yarder by McPherson, the man they are now calling “Money” and for good reason. He has not missed in the playoffs, hitting 12 straight.

So, in two weeks they meet the Los Angeles Rams, winners over San Francisco in the NFC Championship game, 20-17, and even for those of us who over the years became most jaded and dispirited by their poor play and bad demeanor, the future looks pretty darn good.

The big question now is not so much how they perform in two weeks on the NFL’s largest stage, but what the Brown family does to sustain this success. Will they be happy with the status quo? Will they glory in prosperity?

Or, will they spend on areas that need help: the offensive line and, yes, the defense? A lot of folks will keep their fingers crossed.

For now, it’s just nice to have a football team again. It’s been a long, dry spell.

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