Key moments from the Bengals’ storytelling season
The Bengals followed the following week with a 41-10 blowout from the Steelers, a game in which the defense again led the way, as Apple grabbed another interception, Mike Hilton returned an interception for a touchdown and Hubbard picked up another forced fumble by Hendrickson.
Cincinnati proved their early-season win at Pittsburgh was no fluke, but couldn’t string together a third straight win and ended up with back-to-back losses to the Chargers and overtime to the 49ers. despite a valiant comeback.
It was the next set of games that really set the tone for the playoffs. The Bengals cruised to a 15-10 victory in Denver, and the offense exploded in a 575-yard performance to beat the Ravens 41-21 to complete a Second Division sweep. Then they finally chained a third straight win to clinch the AFC North with a 34-31 victory over Kansas City as Ja’Marr Chase caught 11 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns.
Since then, no moment has been too big for the Bengals.
“I think because again, we know what kind of team we have,” receiver Tyler Boyd said. “We are the team to beat, we didn’t get here by chance. We’ve been out in every game, if you’ve watched every second half of our last games or playoff games since we faced the Chiefs in Game 1, we literally went out there and won the game. Our defense has gone out there and had two turnovers in the last two to three weeks. The offense once it’s done, we go and finish it. It’s a collective job once you go out there and execute and ultimately it’s going to come down to which team wants it the most and we’ve shown that.
Hubbard and quarterback Joe Burrow point to early wins over Pittsburgh and Baltimore being indications of what the Bengals were capable of this season.
The Bengals warned the AFC North when they traveled to Pittsburgh and won 24-10 in Week 3. It was the franchise’s biggest win since 1995. Logan Wilson produced two interceptions, Chase caught two touchdown passes and Joe Mixon rushed for 90 yards. to lead the way, and four weeks later Cincinnati overcame that effort with a 41-17 victory at Baltimore on weekdays to move to 5-2.
Although two disappointing losses to the Jets and Browns followed, Hubbard said the defense in the second half of the season was able to look back on that Ravens game to remember how good it could be.
“It was a great example of our discipline, our execution, the three tiers, the new additions that are coming in and really, everyone is impacting the game,” Hubbard said. “We were going to lose some guys, some guys were going to have to step up, but it was definitely a confidence boost. We’ve won a few games, but when you win a division game like this on the road against a team that’s really always been successful with us, you can tell things have changed when it comes to where we stand in that division.
Even the overtime win over Minnesota in Game 1 might have changed the course of the season if it had gone the other way.
Chase had caught a 50-yard touchdown pass late in the first half to help the Bengals gain momentum to take a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter, but the Vikings came back to tie the game. the game with a 53-yard field goal as time runs out. Cincinnati ended up winning on Evan McPherson’s field goal as time ticked down to end overtime.
Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams called this game the first big “wow moment” with Chase. He finished with 101 receiving yards and shook off any worries he might be slow to transition to the NFL, after a tough preseason with drops.
“The Vikings one was exciting because that’s kind of the exact reason why I think we drafted him so we could get the better of the defense and just to do it,” Williams said. “And it was the first time we’ve seen him do that in a game, so it was exciting.”
The Bengals suffered two narrow losses to the Bears and Packers over the next four weeks and later an overtime loss to San Francisco, and free safety Vonn Bell said even those moments were important to the team. After each of those three narrow losses, Cincinnati bounced back with a win the next game.
His only loss since Week 14 to the 49ers came in the Finals in Cleveland when the majority of starters were rested.
“It’s really been all year and through the ups and downs the guys just kept fighting,” Bell said. “We have a relentless group. Never too high, never too low. We always try to do our job to the best of our abilities and play with each other and that’s the most important thing. … I’m just saying throughout the year it’s just about having the relentless group effort with the coaches and the players and the guys just trying to find a way to win and put themselves on the right track where everything we do.