Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard returns a fumble 98 yards for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of the Wild Card game against the Baltimore Ravens (Ben Solomon/

The Return

By Dr. John Huang

(Cincinnati, Oh.) – Franco Harris’ Immaculate reception, Joe Montana to Dwight Clark’s The Catch, and John Elway’s The Drive are all integral parts of the National Football League’s glorious and fabled lore.

For Bengals fans worldwide, let’s now add Sam Hubbard’s The Return to that list.

With the score tied at 17 and just under twelve minutes left in the fourth quarter of a tense Wild Card rematch between familiar divisional foes, Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley appeared to be steering his team in for the go-ahead score. As Germaine Pratt stood Huntley up just short of the endzone, Huntley attempted to extend the ball over the goal line. Linebacker Logan Wilson then batted the ball into the hands of Hubbard who promptly galloped 98 yards to paydirt.

And with that 14-point turnaround, the Bengals defeat the Baltimore Ravens 24 – 17, win their ninth straight game in a row, win playoff games in back-to-back seasons for the first time ever in franchise history, and set up a make-up rematch tilt with the Buffalo Bills.

For Cincinnati’s homegrown defensive end, the longest fumble return in NFL postseason history couldn’t get any sweeter.

“You can’t even dream that one,” Hubbard said afterwards. “It’s pretty special. I was just glad to see my teammates’ faces because that was a bad one. It was a toughly fought game. A lot of adversity, very physical. To make the play and be the guy to come through is an amazing feeling. Not only for my teammates, but the fans as well.”

All 66,399 fans in attendance (the second largest in history) at Paycor Stadium can now say they witnessed that historic Hubbard return. As has so often been the case this season when the offense goes stagnant, they saw their defense rise to the rescue.

“Just the second half in general this entire year, that’s really been the story line for our defense, is rising up and really just not allowing the [opposing] offense to have anything,” said head coach Zac Taylor. “For our offense to go and get into a rhythm and be able to score points, but our defense in the second half, which has been fantastic—today was no different.”

With Cincinnati’s win, and with Buffalo’s 34 – 31 victory over Miami earlier in the day, the NFL gets the rematch everybody was hoping for. The Bills and Bengals will now square off next week in a much-anticipated reboot of the Monday Night Football game canceled just two weeks earlier.

There’s only one problem for Cincinnati. The deck is stacked against them. Not only is Buffalo championship good, but they’ll play the game at Buffalo’s Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. Forget about the horrid weather and rabid opposing fans, the Bengals’ main opponent on Sunday will be the NFL league office.

Commissioner Roger Goodell talks frequently of protecting the shield. That means doing everything necessary in order to keep his money-making machine operating at peak efficiency.  The Demar Hamlin story is already great publicity fodder, thus making the Bills the league media darlings. Furthermore, a Bills versus Chiefs AFC championship tilt between marquee quarterbacks Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes will ultimately send ratings through the roof. It’s blatantly obvious that everyone in suits wants Buffalo to win. Consequently, Cincinnati doesn’t stand a chance.

Sorry, Bengals, it’s not about fairness. If that were the case, there should be no home field advantage for this one. The league has already determined that if the Chiefs and Bills play next week, it’ll be on a neutral site in Atlanta.

Why wasn’t Cincinnati offered that equalizing advantage? After all, the previously postponed game was held in Cincinnati. Had the Bengals won that one, we’d be playing in Paycor this weekend. Instead, we’re marching straight into the Mafia pit. Seems like a double standard to me.

Or maybe there’s a juicy conspiracy theory lying at the heart of it all. Keep your eyes on the refs on this one. Shutter the replay booth.

Better yet, let’s hope the Bengals defense spoils the party.

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, a military veteran, and an award-winning author. He covers professional sports for Sports View America. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

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