Thank Homegrown Sam Hubbard for Sending Cincinnati Bengals to AFC Divisional Bout

"It was unbelievable," Hubbard marveled after the game.

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click to enlarge Sam Hubbard (left) and Joe Burrow are just two BFFs who happen to play pro football better than you. - Photo: twitter.com/bengals
Photo: twitter.com/bengals
Sam Hubbard (left) and Joe Burrow are just two BFFs who happen to play pro football better than you.

The hometown guy had a monster day. During the Cincinnati Bengals' 24-17 AFC Wild Card win over the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 15, defensive end Sam Hubbard made history while pushing the local team to the division playoffs and nabbing some big personal history.

When Bengals linebackers Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson knocked the ball loose from Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley in the fourth quarter, Hubbard scooped it up and made a beeline for the Bengals' end zone. Ravens tight end Mark Andrews sped forward, nearly catching up to the quick Hubbard, but Cincinnati linebacker Markus Bailey knocked him to the left, gingerly hopping over Andrews' prone body between the Bengals' 30- and 20-yard-lines as Hubbard continued powering forward. Hubbard scored, and the 66,399 fans in Paycor Stadium went into a disbelieving frenzy.

Hubbard's heroics secured the Bengals' second straight Wild Card win, and his 98-yard dash became the NFL's longest fumble return ever. Now the Bengals will head to the AFC Divisional. Yes, again.

Not bad for a Cincinnati kid, eh?

Hubbard is a homegrown talent, having attended Archbishop Moeller High School near Montgomery and redshirting at Ohio State University, where he and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow became tight friends. The Bengals selected Hubbard in the third round of the 2018 draft, and he's been integral to the team since, notching timely sacks (including during the Bengals' Super Bowl LVI journey) and leading in tackles during his three starting seasons. In December, Hubbard earned his second nomination for NFL Man of the Year. "It was unbelievable. I think our fans are some of the best fans in the NFL," Hubbard said after the game. "The environment's similar or better than college, Ohio State. It was special. I never thought I'd see that day here in Cincinnati, but it's been a long road."

Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins wasn't happy about the reason Hubbard scored, saying that Dobbins didn't get enough chances to improve his team's situation.

"He [Huntley] should have never been in that situation. I don't get a single carry. I believe I would have put it in the end zone – again," Dobbins said after the game. "I'm a guy who feels like if I'm on the field all the time, I can help this team win, and I wasn't. It's the playoffs. Why am I not out there?"

But Hubbard's buddy Burrow had nothing but praise.

"He's [Hubbard] one of the leaders of the team. He's recognized as captain, he's what this whole thing is built on — toughness, hard work, and leadership. Those are the type of guys we try to bring in here," Burrow said. "He's one of my best friends and comes up with big plays, over and over. He gets his work done, has a positive attitude in the locker room. He's the type of guy you want on your team."
Fans can celebrate with free Gold Star again on Jan. 16, thanks to Sunday's excitement. As the regional chili chain has done in the past, Gold Star is giving fans one free regular 3-, 4- or 5-Way with the purchase of another one of equal or greater value the day after the Bengals win. The Who Dey Way promotion is good all season long no matter if the win occurs on home turf or elsewhere. The promo is available at all Gold Star locations for drive-in, carry-out, dine-in and online; mention the Who Dey Way special when ordering.

Meanwhile, Burrow will be up for a contract extension after the 2022-2023 season. Before the game with the Ravens, he told NBC reporters that he didn't want to go anywhere else.

"My plan is to be here my whole career, and hopefully [head coach] Zac [Taylor] is here my whole career," Burrow told NBC. "I have a lot of confidence in the front office doing their jobs in the offseason."

Next, Cincinnati will head to the AFC divisional playoffs on Jan. 22 to battle the Buffalo Bills again – this time, hopefully to completion. The Bengals and Bills last met in Cincy on Jan. 2, when the Bengals were up 7-3 in the first quarter when Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed with a cardiac arrest. Hamlin was given CPR for nine minutes before being taken away in an ambulance and intubated at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The NFL first suspended and then postponed that game after a meeting among officials and both teams' coaches. Hamlin continued recovering at UC Med Center and recently returned to Buffalo.

Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. Jan. 22. The game will be broadcast on CBS and Paramount+.

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