It’s funny how just a few hours can mold such a large perception of things.
Going into last Sunday, there was cautious optimism that the Bengals would finally get the better of their bitter rivals after six consecutive losses. And, for 58-and-a-half minutes, it looked like Cincinnati’s version of David took down Pittsburgh’s Goliath.
Little did we know that the spirit of Lucy Van Pelt was waiting in the Paul Brown Stadium tunnels to yank it away at the last second. Thanks a lot, Charlie Brown.
Through it all, quarterback Andy Dalton has played some of the best football of his career in 2018. He’s on pace to break his own franchise record for touchdown passes in a single season from 2013, as well as the single-season passing yardage mark, which he also currently holds from that same season.
Even in a loss last week, Dalton moved past Boomer Esiason to become the second-most prolific passer in team history. He should surpass the other great No. 14 at the top of the category in this team’s annals, Ken Anderson, sometime in 2019.
Speaking of quarterbacks, do the Chiefs ever have one of those. After riding Alex Smith to four playoff appearances in five seasons, Andy Reid made the risky move to Patrick Mahomes to lead his team after moving up and drafting him 10th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Mahomes has been nothing short of outstanding, throwing 18 touchdowns and just four interceptions through six games. In his first six professional football games, Mahomes never even felt the sting of a loss at the NFL level.
But, oh, those New England Patriots.
Mahomes nearly pulled off another huge victory over Tom Brady and Bill Belichick on their home field, but they weren’t ready to pass that torch of AFC dominance just yet. The fireworks display at Gillette Stadium did point out the electricity that is No. 15 for Kansas City.
In the contest, Mahomes threw for 352 yards and four touchdowns. He also had two interceptions, but the second-year quarterback continues to prove that he is quickly rising to the league’s elite at the position.
It also helps that he has an insanely talented trio of skill position players around him. Running back Kareem Hunt had an outstanding rookie campaign in 2017 and is following that up in a similar way in 2018. He’s averaging over 100 yards from scrimmage this year as a dual-threat player.
As receiving outlets, the Chiefs employ two of the more productive players in the past few seasons at their respective positions. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill is one of the only men in the NFL with John Ross-like speed, while Travis Kelce gouges defenses on a regular basis.
To say that Teryl Austin’s beleaguered defensive unit will have its hands full this Sunday is an understatement. It’s been a feast-or-famine year for the group and Cincinnati needs the former to arrive at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday evening.
Unfortunately for both Austin and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, the groups they will field on Sunday may be playing with one arm tied behind their backs, so to speak. Giovani Bernard, Tyler Kroft, Billy Price, Darqueze Dennard and Nick Vigil haven’t practiced this week, while Vincent Rey, C.J. Uzomah and Shawn Williams all had limited participation in practice late this week.
We can sit here and harp on the individual matchups and the nightmares that both Hill and Kelce provide the Bengals’ defense. We can also talk about the seemingly-inevitable shootout that will occur on NBC and the litany of stars the Bengals also employ throughout their roster.
However, this one is about a number of other ancillary factors when it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals.
In terms of venue and atmosphere, it’s going to be a tough one. Arrowhead Stadium holds the Guinness World Record for the single largest sporting venue in the United States. It’s also supposedly going to be a bit frigid (probably in the 40s), perhaps putting a pause on the impending quarterback duel.
Also...should we even go there? Yeah, we will. Primetime, folks.
Cincinnati put up the blinders to those bright lights in Week 2, as they more or less clobbered a pretty solid Baltimore Ravens team. But, with their collapse in yet another high-profile game last Sunday, questions on the viability of the team and in Marvin Lewis’ ability to win a playoff game, should they even get there again this year, continue to linger.
Ironically, in Lewis’ first year as Bengals head coach, which coincided way back in the George W. Bush administration, his team was starving for validation as a 9-0 Chiefs came into Cincinnati in 2003. The Bengals were a scrappy 4-5, but were still in the living in the shadows of “The Lost Decade” that was the 90s.
What ensued was the type of thing that made “Who Dey?!” chants return to Cincinnati and give annual hope to Bengals fans about a Lombardi Trophy over the past 16 years. Heroes named Peter Warrick and Jon Kitna rose to the occasion, as Lewis’ Bengals beat Kansas City, 24-19. If their announcement in the win itself wasn’t enough of a message, the subsequent birth of Chad Johnson’s (who guaranteed the victory beforehand) outspoken ways would be loud enough for all to hear.
There are certain coaches who have been kryptonite for Lewis over the years. Anyone wearing black and yellow, Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy, to name a few. However, Lewis has had some success versus Andy Reid over the years.
Also of note, Marvin Lewis has never lost to Andy Reid. He's 3-0-1.— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonATH) October 16, 2018
Lewis is 6-2 all-time against the Chiefs.#Bengals
#Bengals in primetime:— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonATH) October 9, 2018
21-50 all time
8-24 under Marvin
7-39 on road all time
1-16 on road under Marvin
3-14 Sunday nite all time
1-8 Sunday nite under Marvin
1-13 Sun. nite road all time
0-7 Sun. nite road under Marvin
0-3 When flexed
0-0vs. Kansas City
So, take from these, what you will.
Even with the above-mentioned story from 2003, Lewis’ Bengals haven’t always been the most resounding squad when the chips are down and they aren’t expected to win. Maybe that’s because beating high-quality teams just hasn’t been something the 16-year Bengals head coach can put down on the resume with a straight face.
These are the games that build confidence and, sometimes, championship seasons with a win. This isn’t a “must-win” for the Bengals and their playoff lives, per se, but will go a long way in the AFC picture about halfway through the year and in giving legitimacy to this supposedly-transformed Cincinnati team from those of 2016-2017.
If the Bengals can somehow get a win among factors including the weather, the venue, injuries they’re facing and the talented opposition under bright lights, it will be a signature moment for Lewis and his team. As you can see from the information above, they’ll need to buck almost every major primetime trend to come out successful Sunday night.
There is one disclaimer about the 2018 Bengals as we head into this one, though. This team has shown a unique resolve and ability to comeback from a number of situations so far this year, so don’t give up on them if things look bleak in the second or third quarter.
But, if they can’t find a way to a victory, then fans will again be talking about how they are simply on another ride in the Lewis/Mike Brown purgatory carousel.
Bengals 26, Chiefs 31
AC — Not coin-operated.