Sam Hubbard saves the day for Cincinnati Bengals vs Baltimore Ravens

“Bright heart.”

“Tracking by stealth tracking.”

These are just some of the meanings of the name “Hubbard”. And Sam Hubbard of the Cincinnati Bengals embodies them all.

“He’s one of the leaders of the team,” said Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow after Sunday night’s hard-fought 24-17 playoff win over rival Baltimore Ravens. “He’s recognized as a captain, he’s what this whole thing is built on – tenacity, hard work and leadership. These are the guys we’re trying to bring in here. He’s one of my best friends and always puts out great plays. He gets the job done, has a positive attitude in the dressing room. He’s the guy you want on your team.”

Hubbard’s pursuit of the ball carrier early in the fourth quarter set in motion an unlikely turn of events that proved crucial in a fight that seemed to be escaping Cincinnati.

The Ravens faced a 3rd-and-goal from the Bengals 1-yard line when quarterback Tyler Huntley attempted to leap over a pile of corpses to nudge the ball into the end zone for the go-ahead.

Instead, Huntley was stopped by Cincinnati linebacker Germaine Pratt when fellow linebacker Logan Wilson skillfully knocked the ball out of Huntley’s hands. The resulting fumble was caught by Hubbard, who turned and ran for a 98-yard touchdown run in what turned out to be the longest fumble return in NFL postseason history.

“Thanks to Logan Wilson for pulling it off and just being in the right place at the right time,” Hubbard said humbly. “I have a few blocks on the way. I was just afraid of being tracked down. I’m glad I made it to the end zone.”

As did his teammates, along with the 66,399 fans in attendance, representing the second largest crowd to ever watch a Bengals game.

“You can’t even make that up,” Hubbard said. “It’s very special, but I was just happy to see the faces of my teammates because that was a fight, it was a hard-fought game. Lots of adversity, very physical. And to make the game and be the guy that came through is an amazing feeling, not only for my teammates but also for the fans.”

Hubbard’s big play was all the more remarkable considering it came after a 9-play 80-yard drive that saw Baltimore stray from their own 18-yard line and go over four minutes from the clock.

“It’s been a long drive to this piece and I was pretty exhausted,” Hubbard said, “but I’m definitely proud of being very conditioned.”

Well conditioned, yes. But fast? Hubbard ran a 4.95 40 at the NFL Combine, and while he’s worked on his speed, he’ll never be called fast. Mark Andrews, the Ravens’ tight end, was coming at Hubbard quickly and looked like he had a good chance of bringing him down just short of the goal line.

“I watched on the big screen,” Hubbard explained. “I thought, ‘He’s coming, someone’s blocking him.’ Please, please don’t get caught. That’s all I thought about.”

Luckily for Hubbard, he had a few teammates, one of whom was reserve linebacker Markus Bailey. Bailey got just enough shove at Andrews that his attempt at diving fell short in a tackle around the 20-yard line.

“Marcus gave me a good block and I’m grateful to him,” Hubbard said. “I know everyone was tired and there was a caravan in the end zone.”

Hubbard, who attended Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati and later became a standout defenseman at Ohio State University, was subsequently given a cue ball and struck the Heisman pose in the locker room euphoria.

“[I was]yelling at all these people to just block somebody,” head coach Zac Taylor said. “It looked like Mark Andrews was going to run him over and we had a whole caravan of people. That’s what went through my head – ‘Run faster.’”

He ran fast enough to complete what is probably the biggest play in franchise history.

“I only played soccer,” Hubbard said. “It just fell into my hands and you just go. I’ve never really been in that position, but it’s a good feeling. I understand why attacking guys like it.

And we can all see why teammates and fans alike have come to appreciate the hometown hero’s game.

“This is Mr. Cincinnati,” said Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd. “A guy like Sam doing this piece can’t be any other person. This is what he was made and prepared for. This one was very special.”

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