CINCINNATI – I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet.
The Bengals got sweet revenge on Sunday at Paycor Stadium and knocked off Cleveland 23-10.
Earlier in the season, on Oct. 31, the Browns whipped up on the Bengals on Monday Night Football.
The win puts Cincinnati at 9-4 and in a tie for first place with Baltimore in the AFC North Division, and the winning streak at five games.
The victory over Cleveland was the first for quarterback Joe Burrow, who is now 1-4 against the Browns.
He threw for 239 yards and completed 18 of 33 passes with one touchdown to get the monkey off his back.
He took the win in stride and didn’t comment much about his first victory over the Browns since he’s been in the league.
“We’ve got some work to do, but today was a good start,” he said.
Since starting the season 0-2, the Bengals are 9-2 and riding a five-game winning streak.
The defense has shut down two of the NFL’s best running backs in three weeks.
Against Tennessee two weeks ago, Derrick Henry was held to 38 yards on 17 carries.
On Sunday, Cleveland running back Nick Chubb was limited to 34 yards on 14 totes.
“It was awesome,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. “That’s just entire team defense. I could go one-by-one and press those guys up front, but that’s a great plan by (defense coordinator) Lou (Anarumo) and all the defensive staff. I’m really proud of the defense today. They gave us our best chance to win it, and then the offense found a way to overcome that adversity and score some points. But it really started with the defense.”
Defensive lineman D.J. Reader and defensive end Trey Hendrickson are playing well at the right time.
“Our defense is the key,” Taylor said. “We’ve been able to key in on the run game and limit yards because of penetration.”
On Sunday, Burrow was without key receiving targets Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Hayden Hurst.
Boyd has a dislocated finger, while Higgins was scratched after the first play of the game due to a hamstring issue.
“We didn’t want him in on that first snap,” Taylor added about Higgins. “He found his way onto the field. We had him dressed up in case we did some stuff, but Tee did not want to be held out of the game. He wanted to play. But some of the information I got in pregame, we did not want that to turn into something worse. He wanted to play. I appreciate that.”
Hurst is still nursing a lower leg injury, but is expected to return to the field soon.
But even without those three targets, the Bengals found ways to win.
Playmaker Ja’Marr Chase had an insane game with 10 catches for 119 yards and one TD.
His acrobatic touchdown grab on a 15-yard slant pattern in the second quarter brought praise from his former LSU teammate and current QB Burrow.
“Yeah, that was a fun one,” Burrow said. “That’s a route we like. Ja’Marr is really good at that route. They ended up routing away from him and I found a window. It was a tight one, but we got in in there. I think he thought it was middle-open, so he wasn’t really getting the ball. Fortunately, when Ja’Marr doesn’t think he’s getting the ball, he’s still the best receiver in the game. He’s incredible. You can move him around and he’s going to make plays in different spots. He’s just a great player that I’m luck to play with.”
Jack-of-all-trade utility player Trenton Irwin also stepped up.
He hauled in two catches for 58 yards including a 45-yard TD from a flea-flicker.
And, let’s not forget about Joe Mixon’s return from a two-week absence due to concussion protocol.
He rumbled for 96 yards on 14 carries.
Cincinnati has a fantastic running back combo that features Mixon and Samaje Perine.
Both have unique skills and bring a different game to the field.
“It’s great having two guys like that because they’re not going to be able to run the ball every single play,” Burrow said. “When you take one out, there’s no dropoff to the next guy. That’s great depth to have in your running back room.”
Image how good this unit will be when Higgins, Boyd and Hurst return to the turf.
The Bengals are in great position to not only make the playoffs with a wild card berth, but to possibly win the division.
They travel to face a struggling Tampa Bay squad at 6-7 on Sunday, and then off to New England to face the Patriots — which are not what they used to be.
They come home to the Jungle and host Buffalo on MNF and close out with Baltimore (9-4), which is not playing well and has some injury issues at key positions.
Image how good the Bengals will be when everyone is on the field and healthy.
Right now, if the playoffs were today, Cincinnati would travel to Tennessee.
They have defeated the Titans back-to-back in Nashville.
My preseason prediction of 12-5 is looking like it could happen.
And the return to the Super Bowl is definitely in play.