KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- They all ended the same way.
In three postseason games, opposing quarterbacks have tried to make a big throw against the Cincinnati Bengals with the game hanging in the balance late. And three times, the ball and their postseason dreams ended up in someone else's arms.
Even Patrick Mahomes couldn’t avoid it. The Kansas City quarterback became the latest to end his season with an interception against Cincinnati. Safety Vonn Bell snagged the pick that set up the Bengals' 27-24 overtime win at Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC championship game.
For yet another time this season, Cincinnati’s defense manufactured a dramatic turnover to shift the course of the season.
“It is something that we have stressed for so long now,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said after the game. “You never know when it is going to start paying off.”
It sparked Cincinnati’s improbable run to the Super Bowl. In Week 1, the Minnesota Vikings were on the verge of a game-winning field goal until Cincinnati linebacker Germaine Pratt forced and recovered a fumble that eventually led to a 27-24 overtime victory.
In the AFC wild-card game, with the Bengals looking for their first playoff victory in 31 years, Pratt intercepted Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr on fourth-and-goal. Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill endured a similar fate in the Titans’ 19-16 divisional loss.
Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie said the fact Cincinnati has forced seven turnovers in three playoff games is no coincidence.
“Big-time plays and big-time players coincide, more now than ever,” Awuzie said. “People are really honing in on what we need to do, what it takes to win.
“It’s do or die. You’re starting to see a lot of people where their clutch factor is starting to play a hand.”
Following the win over the Raiders, Taylor said it was fitting that Pratt had the game-sealing interception since it was something he emphasizes “every day at practice.” Pratt and the rest of the Bengals' defenders embraced the message from Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, one that was emphasized in the rematch against Kansas City.
In Cincinnati's Week 17 win over the Chiefs that sealed the AFC North and its first playoff berth since 2015, Anarumo and the defense felt it left at least one potential turnover on the field.
“We're not going to survive if we don't catch those interceptions that we dropped the first time if [Mahomes] indeed gives us the opportunities,” Anarumo said last week.
That almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy. In overtime Sunday, Bengals cornerback Eli Apple had a potential game-ending interception slip through his hands. But on the very next play, Mahomes tried a deep ball into double coverage.
Bengals safety Jessie Bates deflected the pass intended for Kansas City wide receiver Tyreek Hill and Bell, Cincinnati’s other starting safety, cradled it and ran the other way. It was similar to Cincinnati’s final interception against Tennessee, when Apple got his hands on a pass that linebacker Logan Wilson intercepted.
The fact that multiple Bengals happened to be in the vicinity of a potential turnover wasn’t a coincidence, either.
“Good things happen when you run to the ball,” Wilson said after the win at Tennessee.
Cincinnati’s ability to manufacture takeaways is fitting given the improbable Super Bowl run. When the opportunities have presented themselves this season, the Bengals have often capitalized.
But it’s also more than that. Wilson said Cincinnati has looked at analytics that show the probability of victory increases with a positive turnover margin, especially when they occur late in postseason games.
Anyone looking for proof just needs to look at Cincinnati’s playoff run.