GLENDALE, Ariz. — For one game, the Bengals – in a 34-20 win over the re-building Arizona Cardinals – finally looked like the team that has Super Bowl LVIII aspirations.
Joe Burrow moved around in the pocket like it was 2021. Ja’Marr Chase broke Carl Pickens’ single-game record for catches with 15, two more than the old mark. Chase was targeted 19 times for 15 catches and 192 yards. He caught three touchdowns.
Burrow completed 36-of-46 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns. Sunday felt like it was supposed to feel at the start of the season, before sluggish start and before the right calf strain of July 27.
Sunday’s win was just one win. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Sunday was that critical first step.
“It means nothing if you don’t go out there and build on it,” Burrow said.
“Definitely, you could say that,” Chase said when asked if Sunday could be a turning point. “We definitely needed this win. We needed that New Orleans win (last season) bad too. I just want to say we’re making the right steps forward right now. Just keep pushing and moving forward.”
After the defense opened the game with a three-and-out, Burrow was scrambling, juking, dancing and sliding just like his 2021 and ’22 seasons.
As much as it meant to show off Burrow’s agility and Chase’s amazing individual talents in a desperately needed win, what the Bengals showed late in the second quarter and midway through the third will mean just as much to this team going forward.
The Bengals showed little to no fight or resiliency in two of their three losses and never felt like they were in the game against Baltimore.
On Sunday, the underwhelming Cardinals went from 10-0 down to a 14-10 up when the Bengals offense went radio silent. The Bengals were driving inside the Cardinals 5 and had two shots from the 1. They decided to run twice and were stuffed both times.
The game was turning in a big way. The Bengals were in big trouble. Then Cam Taylor-Britt picked off Josh Dobbs and returned it 11 yards to give the Bengals the lead for good, 17-14. The Bengals weren’t perfect. They had a chance to add more points in the second quarter when they forced another Arizona punt and got the ball back with a minute left before the half.
But the Bengals could manage just one first down before a Burrow sack just before halftime. Still, the Bengals had done what they needed to do to reclaim momentum in the game.
Burrow and Chase connected twice more in the second half for touchdowns, including the 63-yarder on a perfectly-thrown ball that Chase ran down like the wind on Cincinnati’s first drive of the third quarter. The Bengals led 24-14. They were getting ready to put a stranglehold on the game.
For offensive guru Zac Taylor, it was a thing of beauty.
“They started to cloud Ja’Marr a lot, so the only way to get him away from that cloud really was to get him across the field to the quarter side,” Taylor said. “The protection, again, was outstanding right there. Joe did a great job with his landmark in the pocket.
“It was a great throw, a perfect throw. Not many guys can get that last burst to be able to track it the way Ja’Marr did. That’s a great connection between those two. That’s a play you get one full speed rep up every week. And you want to hit it when it’s there. And I thought those two did a great job connecting.”
That’s the offense. Then a strange thing happened.
The Bengals defense forgot how to tackle. The ineptitude cost the Bengals a 44-yard direct snap run from Rondale Moore and an 11-yard touchdown run by Emari Demercado. The Cardinals carved up the defense and suddenly the Bengals led only 24-20.
After the Bengals went three and out, the Cardinals marched down the field – with the help of the 44-yard run – and had 4th-and-1 at the Cincinnati 16. But instead of breaking, the Bengals bowed their necks. Nick Scott took on a blocker and Germaine Pratt filled in behind and stopped Dobbs for a loss and turned the ball back to the Bengals.
Sunday was not about the Bengals porous defense at times. It was about them making plays when they positively, absolutely had to have them.
As a matter of fact, both sides could point to being clutch if not consistent Sunday. But that’s what successful teams do. They complement each other.
“It shows us who we really are,” Chase said. “We already knew what we were capable of from the jump. We’ve definitely faced adversity from the jump, and right now we’re just getting that wagon going again and moving forward.”.
Just like last year. You remember that? The Bengals were reeling after a last-second loss to the Ravens in Baltimore on Sunday night, heading into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and a must-have with Saints.
The Bengals were down last year 17-7 in New Orleans and the season was slipping away. They turned things around and captured a 30-26 win to even their record at 3-3.
“This kind of feels like last year in New Orleans a little bit,” Burrow said. “We’re going to celebrate tonight, but get back out there and work (Monday). I knew we had to win it. We had to win in New Orleans last year too. So similar feeling.”
Sometimes in the NFL, it’s not so much about the Xs and Os as it is hanging in until your offense finds it rhythm. Sunday in Arizona, this game had a definitive feel that it was going to be determined by how well the Bengals overcame shortcomings they’re still dealing with.
“Yes. By no means was it perfect,” Burrow told me. “It was hard, that’s a good defense and they were moving the ball well at times. So we had points in that game where we had to come up big and we did.”
Fourth-and-1 stop, two interceptions, two three-and-outs to start the game. There were bright spots, especially the fourth-and-1, where the Bengals look serious about
“That’s a huge play,” Taylor said. “I think it was a four-point game at the time if I’m not mistaken. That was a huge stop. The defense rose to the challenge there. I think Germaine was the one who had the big contact there. That was a critical play in the game for us for sure. That’s a turnover.”
We just don’t overreact to the early point in the season,” Taylor said. “We correct what we can correct. There was never any wholesale challenges needed. We knew how close we were and we knew what it could look like. We’ve got to continue to build off days like today. That’s a big part of it. There was never any overreaction or anything from us.”
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