Across The Shield: Vonn Bell Makes Game-Changing Interception, Eli Apple Throws Down Tyreke Hill and Sam Hubbard's Sacks Propel Bengals to Super Bowl LVI

By Matt Gutridge on January 31, 2022 at 9:20 am
Vonn Bell
Denny Medley – USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals are Super Bowl-bound for the third time in franchise history and the first time since 1988. Several former Buckeyes were instrumental in getting the Bengals to SoFi Stadium to take on the L.A. Rams.

Entering Sunday, 11 playoff games had ended in overtime under the current NFL overtime rules, and teams that won the overtime toss were 10–1. With the Bengals and Chiefs tied 24-24 at the end of regulation, Kansas City won the toss and Patrick Mahomes smiled. We've seen this movie before. Game over, right?

On the second play of the extra period, it appeared Eli Apple was going to finish the game as a hero with a walk-off pick-six, but the interception went right through his hands.

Given a second chance, Mahomes decided to go deep on the next play. Off a tip from fellow Bengals safety Jessie Bates, Vonn Bell secured the interception, setting up Joe Burrow and the offense for the game-winning drive. 

This incomparable Dan Hope offered this astute observation in regard to Bell's outstanding play.  

Before getting to the exciting conclusion, let's take a moment to review some of the key moments former Buckeyes made that put the Bengals in the position to win the game.

Apple bomb

Up 21-10 with five seconds remaining in the first half, Mahomes talked Andy Reid into going for one more touchdown before halftime. A risky decision considering the Chiefs did not have a timeout. The gamble did not pay off as Mahomes threw short of the end zone to Tyreek Hill and Eli Apple tossed the elite wide receiver to the ground before he could reach the goal line.

It can be argued that Apple's stop was the turning point of the contest. Cincinnati's defense held the Chiefs to three points in the second half and put the team in position for the historic comeback.

Pressure bursts pipes

The next Buckeyes to step up were Sam Hubbard and Bell. With just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter, the dynamic duo put pressure on Mahomes that forced Kansas City's quarterback into throwing his first interception of the game.

The turnover led to a two-yard Ja'Marr Chase touchdown reception from Burrow, followed by a successful two-point conversion to tie the game at 21-all.

"We just knew it was going to be on us. The situational pass game, two minute, red zone, third down. We knew it was going to come down to us, especially the back end."– Vonn Bell after the game

Hubbard saves the day

As the Chiefs were attempting to win the game at the end of regulation with a touchdown, they faced a second-and-goal from the Cincinnati four-yard line. Hubbard demonstrated relentless effort and dropped Mahomes for a five-yard sack to force third-and-goal from the nine.

On the following third-and-goal play, Hubbard was used as a spy on Mahomes. Hubbard played safety during his high school days at Cincinnati’s Archbishop Moeller High School, and those skills were on full display as he initially dropped back before coming after Mahomes on a delayed rush and hunting him down for a 15-yard strip sack.

Following Bell's overtime interception, Burrow and the Bengals took over on their own 45-yard line. The Athens native led his team on a nine-play drive that culminated with Evan McPherson's game-winning, AFC Championship-winning 31-yard field goal. 

Teams that win the overtime coin toss in championship games are now 10–2. Joe Burrow became the sixth quarterback to win an AFC championship game since 2003, joining Mahomes, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger.

Bosa balls out in loss

The San Francisco 49ers were unable to hold onto a 10-point fourth quarter lead and lost to the Los Angeles Rams, 20-17. The loss was not due to the play of Nick Bosa. The defensive end completed the game with 1.5 sacks and now holds the franchise record with eight playoff sacks, surpassing Charles Haley's record of 7.5 postseason sacks.

Bosa has played in six playoff games and has recorded at least a half-sack in each of those contests. Unfortunately for Bosa, his six tackles, two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks on Sunday were not enough to get San Francisco back to the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.

For the first time in franchise history, the Bengals will play in a Super Bowl against someone other than the 49ers, who they lost to in their previous two Super Bowl appearances. Instead, they’ll face the Rams – whose only Buckeye, Jordan Fuller, is out for the season with an ankle injury – as the NFC champion plays the Super Bowl in its home stadium for the second straight year.

The full list of the Buckeyes in the Super Bowl, which is set for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff on NBC on Feb. 13:

Bengals: Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, Sam Hubbard, Isaiah Prince (and Joe Burrow)
Rams: Jordan Fuller (IR)

Buckeyes in the NFL Championship Games
NICK BOSA DE 49ERS 6 tackles, 1.5 sacks (7.5 yards),  2 TFL, 2 QBH
SAM HUBBARD DE BENGALS 8 tackles, 2 sacks (22 yards), 1 TFL, 2 QBH, 1 FF
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