Do not doubt Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase, and these entertaining Bengals
How far can this fun team go?
The Cincinnati Bengals are AFC North champions.
What a time to be alive. This weekend, the Bengals were down 14-0 early to a very good Kansas City Chiefs team — a team that was riding an eight-game winning streak — but rallied for a 34-31 win that clinched Cincinnati’s first trip back to the playoffs since 2015. And as division champs, the Bengals will host a playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium later this month.
About 15 months ago, I wrote about the first Bengals game I ever watched. But as I noted in that piece, I later drifted away from professional football fandom, as my time began to be dominated by my children’s sports and other activities. There was only so much time in the day, and the NBA and NFL both dropped off my radar for a while (though I did pick up a nasty soccer habit in the meantime).
So I was spared the heartache and headaches that many of you hardcore Bengals fan experienced throughout the 1990s and 2000s. But the drafting of quarterback Joe Burrow intrigued me. Then I watched a lot of people screaming about the selection of Burrow’s college teammate at LSU, receiver Ja'Marr Chase, in the first round of the 2021 draft. After all, the franchise quarterback was returning from a devastating knee injury suffered after a porous offensive line was unable to protect him for most of his rookie campaign, so drafting a lineman with the 5th overall pick seemed like a good idea, right? Had Cincinnati bungled another first round pick?
Well, no. Chase is in line to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, and he’s already breaking records along the way. Chase’s 266 yards receiving on Sunday is a new franchise record (formerly held by Chad Johnson), and it’s also the NFL record for most receiving yards in a game by a rookie. He’s the real deal, period, full stop.
Burrow, meanwhile, may be developing into the best quarterback in the game before our very eyes. Against the Chiefs, he threw for 446 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Chiefs, who hadn’t allowed a 300-yard passer in nearly three months, outdueling Patrick Mahomes in the process. And that came one week after he threw for 525 yards and four touchdowns against Baltimore.
Yes, they still need to improve the offensive line for this team to reach their potential. Watching Burrow limping on that right knee is enough to keep Bengals fans up at night. But when the O-line does protect their quarterback? Burrow is elite, as noted by Jake Liscow and Robert Mays: “On drives this year when Burrow doesn't get sacked, the Bengals score 49.2% of the time in the NFL (4th in NFL), punt just 26% of the time (8th), score 2.76 points per game (5th). All those things turn average when Burrow gets sacked.”
Meanwhile, since I’m handing out praise, is it just me or is receiver Tee Higgins underappreciated? In just his second year out of Clemson, Higgins has already topped 1000 receiving yards this season and every single game, it seems like he comes up with a spectacular catch or three in traffic. As Chris Wilson said to me over the weekend, Higgins is turning into the TJ Houshmandzadeh of this team: extremely productive, but overshadowed by Ochocinco.
So how far can this Bengals team go? I know what you’re thinking: seven consecutive playoff losses since 1991. You wouldn’t be a typical Cincinnati sports fan if those doom and gloom thoughts didn’t enter your head just when you begin to get optimistic. But I am optimistic, and not just for this year. As I said six weeks ago:
I’m getting way ahead of myself, but I’m starting to feel some serious 2010 Reds vibes here. A roster filled with exciting young players, a fan base that has been beaten down so much over the years, and a team arriving on the playoff scene perhaps a year or two ahead of schedule. Remember, among some “experts,” the Bengals were uniformly expected to finish in last place in the AFC North division.
And now they are AFC North champions. Can the Bengals actually win a game this year, and advance in the playoffs? Is the Super Bowl a legitimate possibility? Never doubt Joe Burrow, I say.
“I said it in the preseason,” Burrow said. “We were talking about playoffs, and I said that if we were going to go to the playoffs, the easiest way to do that was to win the division. Everyone kind of laughed at us a little bit, but we knew what kind of team we had.”
No one is laughing at Joe Burrow now.
The Riverfront: A Cincinnati Reds Show
This week, Nate and I were joined by the always entertaining Wick Terrell of Red Reporter to count down the top ten Cincinnati Reds moments of 2021. There were more fun moments than you remember!
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