After a stellar 2020 season and off-season contract extension talks, the expectations for Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III were very high heading into the 2021 campaign. The play of Bates and new addition Vonn Bell in the 2020 lead to the two being in the conversation for the best safety tandem in the league, with Bates being the lead man.
As the 2021 season progressed, we really didn’t see the same Jessie Bates III we were accustomed to. There were times where there was clear miscommunication among the defensive backs that he is the leader of. At times, receivers seemed to flat run by him. Other times, he seemed to struggle to find the ball or make that last second move to force the incompletion.
Hearing him speak, you would’ve never known. Bates did a great job of focusing on the next game all season. Always supporting his teammates and giving credit in interviews showed the struggles didn’t rattle him.
Perhaps it was that mindset that lead to his best game of the season coming at the perfect time.
In the Bengals’ thrilling Wild Card victory over the Las Vegas Raiders, the fourth-year man put together hands down his best game of the year:
#Bengals S Jessie Bates had his highest grade of the season when it mattered most in Saturday's wild-card round win over the Raiders.— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) January 16, 2022
85.6 @PFF grade
0️⃣ Zero catches allowed on two targets
Two pass breakups
Maybe his most notable play of the game came with 8:30 remaining in the third quarter. The Raiders had gotten back within 10 points and were facing a third-and-four situation. Derek Carr threw a beautiful ball to Hunter Renfrow toward the sideline that looked as if it would extend the drive. As Renfrow hit the sideline, Bates came through with a great punch-out to stop the completion of the catch.
Playoff Jessie Bates III, by the way, is some absolute electricity!!! pic.twitter.com/Cx7hLQIxVS— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) January 16, 2022
The call on the field was a completed catch, but a challenge by Zac Taylor reversed the result and Las Vegas was forced to punt. The play stopped what felt like an inevitable shift in momentum and forced a punt.
Make no mistake about it, the Bengals must resign Bates this off-season. While he may not have made the big plays we have seen from him in the past, he rose to the occasion in the biggest professional football game of his career. A beloved figure in the locker room and leader of the defensive backfield shouldn’t be cast aside after one below spectacular year.
As the Bengals move on to the divisional round (it felt very good to type that), they will face no shortage of explosive wide receivers. This version of No. 30 will go a long way into extending this magical season.