Wyche got so irritated that after one injury delay he waved his arms and screamed "Bull——!" across the field at Seattle coach Chuck Knox. Esiason suggested that referee Red Cashion penalize the Seahawks for unsportsmanlike conduct. "Come on, Red," Esiason said with typical sarcasm. "You'd think he'd be missing a ligament or a kneecap by now."
Knox wouldn't admit to any hanky-panky. "They were hurt," he said afterward. Nash refused to comment on his alleged injuries, but Clarke said, "That was just Football 101."
Seattle got back into the game early in the fourth quarter. With 13:24 remaining, a miraculously healed Nash recovered an Esiason fumble on the Cincinnati 31. Five plays later, Krieg threw a seven-yard scoring pass to fullback John Williams to make the score 21-7. The next time the Seahawks got the ball, they went 69 yards in nine plays for another TD. However, Steve Largent, the NFL's alltime leading pass receiver and Seattle's holder on kicks, mishandled the snap on the point-after attempt, and Norm Johnson's kick was wide. Johnson had converted 130 consecutive PATs. His miss left Seattle eight points behind with 6:05 to play.
"That took a lot out of them," said Woods. "If they'd made that, they'd have thought they had a good chance to come back."
Esiason, who was named the NFL's MVP by the Associated Press earlier in the week, wasn't particularly effective in the air—completing only 7 of 19 passes for 108 yards—but he didn't have to be. "It was kind of an ugly win," said the Bengals' offensive line coach. Jim McNally. "But I'll tell you, if you want to make it to the Super Bowl, you've got to run the damn ball."
Cincinnati, which had a 4-11 record last season, has pulled off the second-biggest turnaround in league history, surpassed only by that of the 1962 and '63 Oakland Raiders, who went from 1-13 to 10-4. The most obvious changes have been in Wyche's relationship with his players. For the first time in his five years with the Bengals, he's consistently fining players who don't follow his rules. More important, he's communicating better with Esiason. In years past they often butted heads on the sideline over what plays to call. Weathering the painful, strike-disrupted '87 season—"I was booed every time I went back to pass," says Boomer—helped Esiason understand what Wyche went through as a coach under fire.
Now, says David Fulcher, the Bengals' strong safety, "it's 'Whatever you want, Sam.' ...'Whatever you want, Boomer.' If a play works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't. We've all grown up in the past year. If there's any problem, anywhere, we address it—together." Which is just the way to get things done around the office, even during playoff time.