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It’s time to believe in the Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals are for real. It is time for the football world to take notice.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

With a 41-17 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals may have finally woken up the football world outside of southwestern Ohio.

Baltimore entered Sunday as Vegas’ favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Coming off of a blowout win over the Los Angeles Chargers, not many of the talking heads gave the Bengals much of a chance to win against the now former AFC North leaders.

Luckily for the Bengals, games aren’t won and lost in a television studio.

The Bengals have a defense now

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo cooked up the best game of his tenure in Cincinnati. Typically, a quarterback having 88 rushing yards isn’t a sign of a great defensive performance. When the opposing quarterback is Lamar Jackson in the middle of perhaps his best season as a pro, you will take that seven days of the week.

Jackson couldn’t get comfortable today. His rushing opportunities were still there, but the Bengals defense was able to keep him relatively in check. Anarumo was creative with his blitz packages, he pulled faster defenders into the box to spy the quarterback and had the ream ready to bottle up the MVP candidate all game.

Jackson found similar struggles when trying to move the ball through the air. Finishing with 15 completions on 31 attempts, 257 yards and one beautiful touchdown throw, it just wasn’t enough to keep the Ravens in the game. If you watched the game, it didn’t really feel like he even did that well.

The heavy investments the Bengals have made on the defensive line once again paid off in a big way today. Sam Hubbard lead the team with 2.5 sacks in his best pass-rushing performance of the season.

Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi continues to be a crucial addition to the group. He finished the contest with 1.5 sacks and a handful of plays that statistics buffs may call pressures, depending on if they call the play a QB run or not.

Prized free agent Trey Hendrickson came in to add an additional sack to the stat sheet. Sacking an electric quarterback such as Jackson five times was a pivotal part of the game.

The additions of Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton have shown to be vital to the defense’s success this season and that was certainly the case today. Baltimore’s receivers struggled to find separation for most of the game. Awuzie, Hilton and Eli Apple (yes, Eli Apple) forced Jackson to hold the ball, allowing the Bengals defensive line to get into the backfield.

All in all, this was a phenomenal performance by Cincinnati’s defense and doing it against the best dual threat quarterback in the NFL will certainly wake people up.

Jessie Bates III sure thinks so:

On the other side of the ball, we saw a second straight week of offensive explosion in the second half. After a first half that left something to be desired, Zac Taylor’s offense scored 28 points in the second half.

A career day for Joe Burrow in passing yards with 416 and Ja’Marr Chase racking up 201 receiving yards proved to be too much for Baltimore’s blitz-happy defense. While Burrow took more hits than any fan likes to see, he was able to extend plays and find the open man more often than not.

Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine did just enough to keep the game balanced. Mixon finished the day with 12 carries for 59 yards and a score. Perine racked up 52 yards rushing and a score, with 46 of those yards coming on his late touchdown run to pour salt in the wound.

This team features a defense that can dominate any offense, a franchise quarterback who is continuously improving and a variety of offensive skill players who can take over and give the team a spark.

Known photo-bomber C.J. Uzomah celebrated National Tight End Day with three receptions, 91 yards and two big-time touchdowns. His recent emergence as a true weapon in the passing game brings the offense yet another weapon and Burrow is certainly getting comfortable throwing him the ball in big moments.

They went in to Baltimore, neutralized Jackson and snapped the five-game winning streak of the ream favored to represent the AFC in February. Approaching the midway point of the season, it is time to believe in the Bengals.