Sam Hubbard delivers play of a lifetime in Bengals’ wild-card win

The local kid turned into the hometown hero over the course of one play. All Sam Hubbard had to do was run 98 yards without being caught.

‘Just get to the end zone,’ Hubbard said after the Bengals defeated the Ravens, 24-17, to advance to the AFC divisional round. ‘We know that these playoff games are never pretty. By any means, get it done.’

Hubbard got it done. Fifteen seconds after the snap, Hubbard was in the end zone with six points and a play that will be remembered forever.

The Cincinnati Bengals defensive end played his high school ball at Archbishop Moeller in Cincinnati. He went on to Ohio State and was selected by the Bengals in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft. For someone who has spent his entire lifetime playing ball in Ohio, he now has the play of a lifetime to his name. 

He wouldn’t have found himself in that position without teammate Logan Wilson, who knocked the ball away from Baltimore Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley at the opposite goal line with the game tied at 17 in the fourth quarter.

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Hubbard’s first thank you should be to Huntley for serving the ball on a platter toward the goal line. According to NextGen Stats (and the apparent chip inside the football), the ball was 0.6 yards away from the end zone. Wilson met the ball there with both hands and pushed it loose from Huntley’s grasp.

‘I’m going to be thinking about that the whole offseason,’ Huntley said, ‘just how one play, they won the game.’

As the ball floated toward the ground, running back Gus Edwards could not react in time to snag it. But Hubbard, 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, corralled it with both hands.

Ahead of him was nothing but green turf. The race was on. 

Joe Burrow, from the sidelines, thought: 

”Go! Run faster!” the Bengals quarterback told NBC’s Melissa Stark. ‘Big-time play. It won us the game.’ 

Hubbard had a few advantages working for him. The Ravens, in their jumbo goal line package, did not have their fastest players on the field. Since Hubbard’s responsibility on the play was to rush and contain on the edge, he was untouched through the line.

His main antagonist proved to be Mark Andrews. The Ravens tight end emerged from the scrum in hot pursuit of the ball. He passed Edwards and was within six yards of the ball almost immediately. By that point, Bengals defenders were running with him, almost shielding him. 

”He’s coming,” Hubbard thought to himself. ”Somebody block him. Please, please don’t get caught.’ That’s all I was thinking about.’

Andrews made his last-ditch effort, a dive, 30 yards from the end zone. He came up empty. Hubbard kept running and didn’t stop until he saw his teammates smiling faces on the sideline. He reached a top speed of 17.43 mph, while Andrews ran the fastest speed of his career (20.72 mph) in chase. 

Huntley was pleading that the ball crossed the plane. Replay quickly showed that it didn’t. After the game, coach John Harbaugh said the plan was for Huntley to go low on the sneak. 

In the process of Hubbard’s 98 yards of glory, Cincinnati’s win probability increased from 46% to 88%, per Next Gen Stats. It was the longest fumble return in postseason history. Hubbard traveled 123.6 yards on the play, the most distance by a ball carrier on a touchdown this season. The oxygen mask he wore was necessary. 

After the game, the Bengals communications staff revealed that Hubbard was wearing a microphone. The audio clips will, presumably, feature heavy breathing and be worth the wait.  

For now, an addition to the ‘Momentum Swing Hall of Fame’ will do for Hubbard and the Bengals.

‘You can’t even dream that one up,’ Hubbard said. ‘It’s pretty special.’ 

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca. 

This post appeared first on USA TODAY