Bengals finish strong after slow start


CINCINNATI – Who would have thought this?

For the first few weeks at the beginning of the NFL season, the Bengals struggled. The defending AFC Champs looked out of sync and quarterback Joe Burrow was sacked and harassed relentlessly.

The team started 0-2 and at one point was in last place and 0-3 in the AFC North.

But in the locker room no player or coach showed any panic. Head coach Zac Taylor said he wasn’t worried about the slow start and Burrow said he was not concerned when the squad was winless.

Fast-forward to Sunday’s 27-16 season-finale win over Baltimore at Paycor Stadium. The victory put Cincinnati at 12-4 overall, extended the winning streak to eight games and earned the AFC North Division title for the franchise’s first-ever back-to-back division crowns.

For Burrow, it was expected.

“That’s our stand now,” he said after throwing for 215 yards and one touchdown on Sunday. “We’re going to celebrate it every single time we do it. We’re going to smoke our cigars and wear out t-shirts and hats, but we expect that every year.”

The offense is loaded and puts a lot of points on the board, but the defense might be the main reason the Bengals will host an AFC Wild Card Playoff game next weekend.

Over the past few games, the offense has struggled to put four consecutive quarters together. And yet the team keeps winning. Sunday was a perfect example.

The offense struggled in the second half and managed only two field goals.

On Sunday, the Cincinnati defense caused four Baltimore turnovers which led to good field position and Bengal points.

It seems like every game the defense comes up with a key defensive stand.

But to several Bengal defensive players, that’s also expected.

“Turnovers win games,” linebacker Logan Wilson said. “Now we are going to be in the playoffs and so the more turnovers we can get the more opportunities we can give for our offense to score, the more points they can put up the better chances we win games.”

Wilson has four tackles and four assists in the win, while defensive end Sam Hubbard held down the corner with two tackles.

“We have a lot of great players on offense but sometimes people are surprised when our defense makes plays,” Hubbard said. “But it happens so consistently but people are still surprised at how well we play as a defensive unit. We just keep chopping wood and trying to get the ball out and creating turnovers. We try to get at least two a game.”

On Sunday, that expectation was doubled. Two interceptions. Two fumbles.

With :30 to play in the half, defensive end Trey Hendrickson applied pressure to Baltimore quarterback Anthony Brown in the end zone and caused a fumble. Linebacker Joseph Ossai jumped on the ball for a Bengals TD and the 24-7 lead.

That score was set up with Bengals punter Drue Chrisman pinned the Ravens back on the five-yard line.

“That was big,” Taylor said of the special teams play. “Inside the five right there with our defense. That was big, because we were positioned to get the ball on the 50-yard line and then we could tack points any way we could. But to get some from our defense was a huge boost going into halftime.”

Bengals safety Jessie Bates was all over the field on Sunday with five tackles and one pick.

“All the stuff that we do throughout the regular season doesn’t matter now,” he said. “All that matters now is the playoffs. It’s win or go home.”

Cornerback Mike Hilton, who also had an interception on Sunday, said the defense has made plays all year.

“This is another big step for us,” he said. “We still have our goals in front of us. Now it’s just one game at a time. We know that with the offense we have if we get turnovers and put them on short fields, they’ll get the job done.”

As long as the defense keeps performing as it has done most of the year, Burrow likes the chances of winning each playoff game.

“I love where we’re at,” he said. “How many games have we won in a row, eight? I think that’s one of the longest win streaks right now. Going into the playoffs with a lot of momentum, happy with where we’re at. Still a lot of room to improve.”

My prediction before the season started was 12-5 and a second run at the Super Bowl. I picked the right amount of wins, but who knew the MNF game against Buffalo would be canceled?

Maybe the question to ask instead of ‘who would have thought this?’ is ‘who-dey would have thought this?”

Who Dey!

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