The Cincinnati Bengals nearly climbed the football mountain Sunday. Up 20-16 in the fourth quarter, all the Bengals had to do was prevent the Rams from scoring to have their first ever Super Bowl win. Instead, the Rams marched down the field, snatching the lead on a go-ahead Matthew Stafford to Cooper Kupp touchdown. The Bengals had the opportunity to tie things but were stopped on fourth down.
The hopes and dreams of Cincinnati seeing a Super Bowl were out of sight for another year, but the Bengals will have their chance again, and soon. While you could say this with any team that loses in a championship game, unlike the Montreal Canadiens (what happened?), the Bengals not only have a lot of hope, but a lot of talent.
Before I go into greater detail about why the Bengals will make it back, I need to highlight one thing: The Bengals need to draft an offensive line. They allowed nine sacks allowed against the Tennessee Titans, a team noted for their offensive prowess, and surrendered seven sacks against a vicious Rams defense. The two defenses may be parallel universes apart, but allowing over six sacks in a playoff game shows major weaknesses.
Joe Burrow is the guy for Cincinnati. In his first full season, Burrow threw over 4,000 yards and took home the Comeback Player of the Year Award. Burrow consistently kept his cool and displayed the talents that made him a first overall pick every time he stepped onto the field. Burrow’s second half in the Super Bowl is a statement to his grit and determination: It started with a 75-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd and ended with a will to win a ring. With dedication and superb talent, Burrow is bound to win an MVP within the next few seasons.
Ja’Marr Chase rolled heads when he was selected fifth overall in the draft, with many begging the Bengals to draft an offensive lineman. Fans and the media lost more faith in Chase when he struggled in the preseason. How did Chase rebound? He broke Justin Jefferson’s single-season receiving yards record by a rookie. Winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award helped prove his case as to why he will be an elite wide receiver for the next 5-10 years in the league.
The Bengals offense was more than just Chase and Burrow connecting like they did at LSU. Second-year wide receiver Tee Higgins had a breakout year by obtaining 1,000 receiving yards of his own. Like Donovan Peoples-Jones on the Cleveland Browns, Higgins is a legitimate No. 2 receiver option who can get the job done if the top choice is covered. Boyd also had an amazing season with 828 yards, making him one of the best No. 3 receivers in the league. The Bengals’ wide receiving corps is deep, but don’t forget about CJ Uzomah, a spark of energy for this youthful Bengals team keeping people on the edge of their seats.
Joe Mixon may be forgotten with time, but one thing that will not be forgotten is his speed. Mixon secured his third career 1,000-yard season as the Bengals’ primary running back and finished third in the league behind Nick Chubb and Jonathan Taylor. In addition to his running abilities, Mixon is a dangerous receiver and passer (as proven by his passing TD in the Super Bowl), thus giving him an all-around game that will strike fear into the opposition’s hearts.
One underappreciated aspect was the Bengals’ stout defense. Offseason pickups like Chidobe Awuzie, Trey Hendrickson and Vonn Bell became the vital players the Bengals needed to prevent the opposition from finding the endzone. Hendrickson had himself a career year and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl after recording 14 sacks. Awuzie and Bell were dangerous in the secondary, with Bell securing the interception that led to the Bengals’ AFC-clinching drive.
Lastly, who can forget about Evan McPherson? The fifth round pick out of Florida became a household name within the span of four months. After infamously celebrating a missed game-winner against the Packers in Week Five, McPherson missed only two field goals the rest of the season, including the playoffs, where he made 14. Like Daniel Carlson on the Raiders, McPherson’s game-winners were magical, eliminating teams and securing shocking victories with outstanding swagger and confidence. Would the Bengals have beaten the Chiefs twice without him? Probably, but McPherson made those wins even better.
The overall team impressed everyone. No one imagined the Bengals, a team projected to finish last in the division, winning the AFC North in what could have been considered a rebuilding year. The Bengals deserved to win a playoff game after 30 long years, but stunned everyone by winning three, including two on the road in hostile territories. Who imagined the Bengals playing in the Super Bowl this year after everything they have been through?
The 2022 season will not be easy. It’s too early to tell which matchups will excite the people, but the Bengals will play the Titans and Patriots on the road while hosting the Chiefs and Bills. With time, some of those games may get slotted into a primetime position. The underdog mentality is gone, and the AFC is a wild place to play, but the Bengals are in a great position. They have their pieces, their newly extended head coach and a heartbreaking loss on the back of their minds. Now that they have come close to greatness for the first time since the 1988 season, the Bengals are motivated to win, and win now.
After an amazing season like no other, I only have one question for the Bengals. Who do Dey think is going to sleep on the Bengals next season?