The Cincinnati Bengals: Remastered

January 27, 2022

Worst to first in just a year.  Out of 152 last place divisional losers over the past 19 NFL seasons, only 16 teams had accomplished this feat until the rejuvenated Cincinnati Bengals pulled it off in 2021. A highlight of their turnaround ascent was an incredible Week 17 win against the Kansas City Chiefs who they will battle again this weekend for a trip to the Super Bowl. How did “The Bungles,” a subpar team long known for frustrating mediocrity, claw their way to the top despite one of the toughest schedules in the league? Their recipe has revolved around solid coaching, impactful draft picks, smart free agency signings and a new swagger that has them believing in themselves and unafraid of anyone as their new catch phrase is: “Why Not Us?”

 

The Cincinnati Bengals have underperformed for the past decade. They have managed to get into the playoffs via a Wild Card spot five times in the past 10 years but lost each of those games, prolonging their streak of failing to win a playoff game since 1990. The Bengals were under head coach Marvin Lewis during those short-lived playoff appearances and change was desperately needed. The initial cornerstone was laid in 2019 when the Bengals brought in coach Zac Taylor to breathe new life into the organization. Before obtaining the head coaching job, Taylor was with the Los Angeles Rams as a quarterback and assistant wide receiver coach. It is safe to say that he has made good on the promise he made when he was hired: to attack each day with enthusiasm, set high standards, and hold players accountable for achieving them.  

 

The 2019 season was filled with disappointment for the 2-14 Bengals, and it marked the end of the era with quarterback Andy Dalton. In 2020, things were looking much better for the Bengals as they drafted LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins to strengthen their offense. As for their defense, the Bengals selected Wyoming linebacker Logan Wilson and Appalachian State linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither. The newly selected rookies showed off their rising potential, but the team as a whole ended with a record of 4-11-1. The 2020 season exposed the offensive line as they gave up copious amounts of sacks that ultimately resulted in Burrow’s knee injury that kept him out for the last half of the season. The run defense still needed improvement over the offseason and secondary positions needed to be filled as well. The Bengals brought in defensive tackles D.J Reader from the Houston Texans and Trey Hendrickson from the New Orleans Saints to aid in the defense against the run. As for the secondary, the Bengals brought in cornerback Mike Hilton from the Pittsburgh Steelers, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie from the Dallas Cowboys, cornerback Trey Waynes from the Minnesota Vikings and just for good measure they added another cornerback, Eli Apple from the New York Giants. The Bengals franchise has been known to be a bit frugal with their money but in the 2021 offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals splurged. 

 

The Bengals scored the fifth pick in the 2021 draft and elected to grab LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, against many fans and analysts’ judgement. Fans and analysts had seen the downfall of the offensive line and figured that the Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell was a better fit for the team’s overall success; spoiler alert, they were wrong! The Bengals went on to select Clemson guard Jackson Carmen, Texas defensive end Joseph Ossai and they drafted the only kicker in the entire draft by selecting Evan McPherson from Florida. With an improved team, a healthy quarterback and healthy running back, the Cincinnati Bengals were ready to surprise the AFC. 

 

The Cincinnati Bengals started off the season with a schedule that ranked sixth overall in difficulty, mostly stemming from the competitiveness of the AFC North division. The Bengals started their first game of the season off with a nail-biter as they won with a field goal in overtime against the Vikings. The Bengals then went on to play one of their worst games of the season against the Chicago Bears and promptly lost. Eyebrows were raised after that game but the Bengals proved their worth by winning four out of six games played after their first loss. By mid-season the Cincinnati Bengals posted a record of 5-3. 

 

The first half of the season featured none other than rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Across his first eight games in the NFL, Chase had seven touchdowns and 786 receiving yards, leading his team in both categories. By mid-season, teams were putting together plans to contain the rookie, but many efforts failed. Chase ended his rookie season with 81 receptions (1st on his team), 1,455 yards (4th in league), 13 touchdowns (3rd in league) and an average of 18 yards per catch (2nd in the league). Chase’s yards per catch are evident in his route running as he is the obvious deep threat. The Joey B-Ja’Marr duo has shown up and shown out in their first and second seasons; they are going to be a threat for many years to come. 

 

Ja’Marr Chase may have had majority of the spotlight on him in the Bengals receiving game, but Tee Higgins also achieved a 1,000+ yard receiving season. Higgins is a big-bodied receiver and many of his best plays are made by boxing out the secondary before jumping up to grab the ball. Higgins ended his second season with 74 receptions, 1,091 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins could be looked at as a powerful duo, but the Bengals don’t stop there as they add in slot receiver Tyler Boyd. Boyd ended his sixth season with 67 receptions, 828 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Boyd is durable, reliable and fits right in with the recent additions in the receiving game. 

 

Alright enough about the receiving game, let’s talk about the guy delivering the passes: the one and only Joe Burrow. This was Burrow’s year to prove how dangerous he can be in the league after a gruesome left knee injury that kept him out for majority of his rookie year. Burrow stepped up to the plate and has proved to be the ringleader of this young team bursting with talent. Burrow’s confidence is evident in post-game interviews, Mic’d Up videos and social media, some may even refer to him as “Joe Cool.” Not only does Burrow have the swag, but he has the numbers to back it up too. Burrow threw for 4,611 passing yards (6th in the league), 34 touchdowns (8th in the league), 70.4% completion percentage (1st in the league), 8.8 yards per pass attempt (1st in league) and 14 interceptions. These numbers are merely the beginning of a prosperous career, and Burrow agrees by exclaiming in his post-game interview “This is how it’s gonna be from here on out” after beating the Las Vegas Raiders in the Wild Card playoff round. Burrow has a bright future envisioned for the Bengals and he has the facilities to make them a scary postseason team for years to come. 

 

Running back Joe Mixon achieved his third 1,000+ rushing season and rushed for 1,205 yards – placing him third overall in the league. This was Mixon’s bounce-back year after only playing six games in the 2020 season and he made it a memorable one. He rushed for 13 touchdowns paired with three receiving touchdowns and only fumbled two times in 292 carries. Mixon showed great patience and vision throughout the season as he crept behind his offensive line before turning on the jets. Speaking of the offensive line, let’s touch on that a bit. The Cincinnati Bengals signed Riley Reiff and Quinton Spain in the 2021 offseason to boost their line but it seems to have only improved marginally as Reiff landed himself on injured reserve and Spain can’t possibly be the glue that fixes everything. The offensive line gave up 51 sacks this season – the most out of any teams around the league. The offensive line needs apparent help before the Bengals can become the elite team that they are destined to be. 

 

As for the defense, the Bengals secondary has proven to be consistent with Vonn Bell, Jessie Bates lll, Eli Apple and Chidobe Awuzie. They are not the most intimidating group to go up against but there are also no clear weak links within their group. They are a group of relatively young guys but have meshed together well and show great confidence. The run defense improved greatly and the linebacker position has become much stronger with Logan Wilson, Germaine Pratt and Akeem Davis-Gaither. The defensive line improved drastically this year! Like I’ve mentioned, the Bengals acquired defensive end Trey Hendrickson and D.J Reader in the offseason to pair with their own Sam Hubbard. The Bengals also elected to take former New York Giants tackle B.J Hill who has made his own impact this season. The 2020 Bengals defensive line only accumulated 17 sacks, whereas in 2021 they accumulated 41 total sacks – a major improvement.

 

And finally, I want to talk about Evan-money-McPherson. McPherson is a rookie kicker from Florida who has already turned heads around the league. In the postseason, McPherson has kicked four game-winning fields goals: Week 1, Week 4, Week 17 and the AFC Divisional Playoff game. On the season, McPherson posted stats of 28-33 in field goal attempts with a completion rate of 84.8%. He was 46-48 in field goals, 9-11 from 50+ yards and now holds the Bengals franchise record for longest kick from 58 yards out. It’s too soon to know for certain, but the Bengals may have landed them a soon-to-be All-Pro kicker. 

 

Okay, so that is a condensed version of how the Cincinnati Bengals performed in the regular season, but they’re not done yet. The Bengals took on the Las Vegas Raiders in the Wild Card Playoff round and defeated them with a final score of 26-19. Burrow and Taylor secured the first playoff franchise win in 31 years, but again, they didn’t stop there. The Bengals then went on to play against the number one AFC seed, the Tennessee Titans. Titans running back Derrick Henry made his return after a foot fracture in Week 8, leaving Bengals fans feeling nervous. In 20 carries, the Bengals held Henry to only 62 yards and secured the win to move onto the AFC Championship. The win over the Titans granted the Cincinnati Bengals their first road win in franchise postseason history. The Bengals will head to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs on January 30th. The Bengals are one game away from heading to the Super Bowl… yes, you actually read that correctly.

 

This Cincinnati Bengals team is bursting with talent and many of them have just started their career. The four-core offensive explosions consisting of Burrow, Chase, Higgins, and Mixon range in ages from 21-25. This franchise is starting to ooze confidence and will no doubt have plenitudes of success in future seasons. The defense is communicating and working well together, the offense has proven its dangerous attributes and the special teams have been consistent. Only a few more tweaks and the Cincinnati Bengals could be consistent Super Bowl contenders in the already overly-competitive AFC division. 

 

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  • D

    Daniel DaltonFeb 5, 2022 at 11:50 pm

    Carlye you are a real pro! Great article. Aunt Julie and I were talking about you and your article and we said that you are the biggest Bengal fan that we know. How awesome! I am so happy that you will be going to the Super Bowl to see your Bengals win the first of many to come. Heck, you should get your press credentials and cover the game on press row. Keep pursuing your dream! You will be big time some day! Love you!

    Reply
  • A

    Amie BlantonJan 31, 2022 at 11:19 am

    Bravo… beautifully written piece! So proud of you!

    Reply
  • J

    Jamee TaylorJan 28, 2022 at 10:55 am

    Carlye ~ Enthusiastic for the Cincinnati Bengals since you were seven, your fandom never wavered through the highs and lows of the seasons. What a great year to be a senior sports writer and bring others in on what you know about the players you have followed into this organization. You thoroughly know your stuff here and it’s enjoyable to read. Great article.

    Reply
  • D

    Donna SprengardJan 27, 2022 at 8:27 pm

    Excellent tribute to the Cincinnati Bengals path from struggles to triumph.
    Well done, Carlye! I’m awaiting the next chapter.

    Reply
  • C

    Carley NuzzoJan 27, 2022 at 4:55 pm

    Carlye can intrigue the most dedicated sports fans as well as the most novice. I love your thorough and concise reporting, only matched by your unique and personal voice that shines through each piece!

    Reply
  • R

    RtaylorJan 27, 2022 at 1:22 pm

    Great article Carlye!! So proud of you!!

    Reply