Sam Hubbard has seen some “dark days” in his lifetime as a Cincinnati Bengals fan and in his first three years as a defensive end for the hometown team.
So it’s especially satisfying to be playing meaningful games in December for the first time in his NFL career,
The Bengals moved into first place in the AFC North with Sunday’s win at Denver and Baltimore’s loss to the Packers. The two 8-6 teams meet this Sunday in an important divisional clash at Paul Brown Stadium, and Cincinnati can ensure its first winning season since 2015 with a victory – in addition to improving its playoff chances.
“We’ve had some dark days,” Hubbard said Monday. “I mean, I’ve been a Bengals fan forever. The last few years have been especially dark, 0-11 (in 2019), never been in a position to play for a chance to go to the playoffs, never had a winning season, and to be in this position, this is what it’s supposed to be like. This is the standard that we have, and we talked about it for a long time and to finally be here, it’s a great feeling. And now we’ve just got to finish the job.”
Cincinnati has three games left to finish the job.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said he can feel an energy in the locker room that reminds him of the playoff teams he was a part of with the L.A. Rams prior to his arrival in Cincinnati. The Rams made it to the Super Bowl in 2018.
But while spirits were high Monday, it wasn’t all good news.
Taylor said linebacker Joe Bachie tore his ACL on his tackle of Teddy Bridgewater, which led to Bridgewater being taken to the hospital for evaluation of a head injury. Runing back Joe Mixon sprained his ankle, as did right guard Hakeem Adeniji, and both will be limited in practice early in the week. Defensive end Khalid Kareem, who was injured at the end of his crucial fumble return in the fourth quarter, is in concussion protocol, and linebacker Logan Wilson isn’t expected to be back this week from his shoulder injury.
That just adds to the sense of urgency, Taylor said.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that whatever level have played for a lot of championships, … a lot of guys that played in the college football playoffs and we got guys from other teams that certainly played in the playoffs,” he said. “This this feels very similar to the end of the season in my times in LA, how the team felt and what the sense was and the urgency there. And so just because we as Bengals haven’t been there the last two or three years I think the sense of the locker room, that stuff is behind us and this team is ready to get going and keep fighting to give ourselves a chance here.”
Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase said the key in these big late-season games is being disciplined and “savage,” as well as making sure everyone is on the same page and communicating as one.
The Bengals are well aware of where they stand in the playoff picture and a tight race for positioning in the AFC. Sunday’s win was important after two straight home losses. The team is 5-2 on the road but 3-4 at home with the next two at Paul Brown Stadium.
“That was a big win just because we needed to get (past) that last home game we had,” Chase said. “We didn’t win a couple of those. So just coming off that game, bouncing back on the road also was a big one for us, so these next three games we got to play big and play our best.”
“We’re in a great position, we still have somewhere we want to be,” Chase added. “We still have a season in front of us. We have to take it one game at a time, execute at practice, be on top of our details, get in the film and watch and be ready when it’s gametime.”
Players said last week they are treating every game here on out as “must-win” situations. A chance to pull a game ahead of the Ravens this week would especially be helpful for the team’s playoff hopes. The Bengals finish against the Chiefs and at Cleveland.
“Time’s running out,” Taylor said. ‘There’s only so many games left and we understand that. We understand the importance of Baltimore’s right there with us, and at the end of the season, they very well could have the same record we do. And so not splitting with them and having a 2-0 lead on them is a big deal. We’ve got it on Pittsburgh right now. We really need it on Baltimore. Again, this game would matter, no matter who we’re playing against. We need to get as many wins as possible here. That’s the only way we can control our own destiny. But certainly, to be 2-0 against Baltimore would be a big deal for us.”
Ravens at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7
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