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1988 Bengals offense among greatest ever

Boomer Esiason and the gang decimated opposing defenses with ease in one of the greatest seasons of Bengals football.

Boomer Esiason

The 1988 NFL season will always be a special memory for Cincinnati Bengals fans. Well, at least fans who are old enough to remember it.

That was the last year the Bengals made it all the way to the Super Bowl on the strength of one of the best offenses the NFL has ever seen. In fact, that offense was among Football Outsiders’ (via ESPN) 30 best offenses of all time, checking in at No. 24:

24. 1988 Cincinnati Bengals

+26.5 percent

The Bengals led the NFL in both passing and rushing DVOA. Boomer Esiason led the NFL in passer rating and won the MVP award, and running backs James Brooks and Ickey Woods each averaged 5-plus yards per carry with more than 180 carries apiece. The offense slowed down in the playoffs, scoring just 19.3 points per game on their way to a Super Bowl loss.

In this formula, zero percent DVOA represents the league average, so a Bengals offense with a +26.5 percent mark rated 26.5 percent better than an average offense. That only begins to detail just how special this unit was, and it was a big reason why the Bengals made it all the way to the Super Bowl before succumbing to the 49ers’ dynasty.

A big reason why this offense was so spectacular was the man running the show, Boomer Esiason, who won the 1988 NFL MVP award and was named to the Pro Bowl, but didn't play in the game due to a shoulder injury he suffered late in the regular season. Esiason also led the AFC in passing in 1988 while becoming the first quarterback to successfully run the no-huddle offense.

The genius of head coach Sam Wyche was the driving force behind that season. Wyche adopted the no-huddle brand of offense and successfully implemented it into Cincinnati’s system, which Esiason ran to perfection. As such, the rest of the NFL couldn’t keep up.

Esiason finished that season with 3,572 passing yards, 28 passing scores vs 14 interceptions and a ridiculous 9.2 yards per attempt average. If not for the final Super Bowl drive by Joe Montana, Boomer would have brought the Queen City their first Lombardi trophy and possibly changed the course of the Bengals' history.

Instead, the Bengals were edged by Montana and the 49ers for the second time in six years, but that doesn’t take away from just how special that Bengals team was, especially in regards to the offense.

Esiason was by no means the only player that made this unit so special. He had plenty of playmakers to make life easier for him, including one of the franchise’s best receivers in Eddie Brown, who finished with 1,273 yards and nine scores that season.

On the ground, the dynamic duo of Ickey Woods and James Brooks combined for 1,997 yards and 23 scores. They also chipped in 50 catches for 486 yards and six more scores. We all remember the Ickey Shuffle from that duo, but they were shuffling through NFL defenses aplenty before running into the 49ers’ vaunted defense full of hall of famers.

Even though this Bengals team fell victim to one of the greatest dynasties of all time, that doesn’t take away from just how special of a team it was, especially in regards to the offense. It’s great to see them still viewed in high regard three decades later.