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The good, the bad and the ugly in Bengals’ Divisional Round win over the Titans

The Bengals continue to slay franchise demons.

The Cincinnati Bengals achieved one of their best victories in franchise history this past Saturday, as they got past the Tennessee Titans in dramatic fashion. And, in doing so, there was a lot to like about the visiting team’s performance.

Here is the best and worst from the Bengals’ win over the Titans.

The good

Joey B. gutting through nine sacks:

It wasn’t the flashy 400-yard, multi-touchdown performance from No. 9 that we’ve been spoiled with in recent history, but it may have been the grittiest from Joe Burrow. The fact that he kept coming after the Titans with 348 yards and a 76% completion percentage was unbelievable.

We knew this would be a very tough matchup against that tough Titans front, but nine sacks and 13 total quarterback hits is unacceptable. The fact that he and his team knocked off the No. 1 seed on their home turf with those numbers is truly astounding.

Joe Mixon grinding out 100-plus scrimmage yards:

Getting consistency in the run game was very difficult once again for the Bengals. Yet, No. 28 came up with some key plays.

Thanks to the big drive to start the third quarter, Mixon had 54 tough rushing yards on 14 carries (3.9 average) and a touchdown. He added 51 yards on six catches as well.

The pass-catchers:

Ja’Marr Chase was again the star with his second 100-yard receiving performance in as many postseason games (an NFL rookie record). Tee Higgins nearly went for 100 yards as well, providing another viable weapon for Burrow against Tennessee.

In terms of ancillary weapons, we already talked about Mixon, but C.J. Uzomah had another nice day with seven catches for 71 yards. Throw in Tyler Boyd who had a couple of timely catches, and it was a pretty sound day from the receiver targets.

All kinds of defensive contributors:

From star safety Jessie Bates III’s stud performance to Clay Johnston making a huge play on his lone defensive snap, it was a great defensive performance from top-to-bottom. While they had trouble getting after Tannehill from a sacks and pressure standpoint, Cincinnati’s defense did force three interceptions.

Logan Wilson had a great game, while Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, Mike Hilton and even Tre Flowers had moments—be it on defense or special teams. No one may have been more valuable than D.J. Reader, though, who had two of his six total tackles go for loss.

Containing King Henry:

Piggybacking on the previous sentiment, much of the lead-up to this game was about Henry’s return and his almost-certain domination of it. While he got in the end zone and he, in fairness, was coming off of foot surgery a couple of months prior, the Bengals did their job in corralling the big back.

If you were to say before kickoff that Henry’s longest run of the day was nine yards, he’d amass only 62 on 3.1 yards per carry and get stifled on two major one-yard-to-go run plays, yeah, you’d take that. And, that’s what transpired Saturday.

The special teams “battery”:

Evan McPherson has been outstanding all year long and has been at his best this postseason, going 8-for-8 on field goals with two 50-plus-yarders to his name. And, quietly, the steadiness of Clark Harris continues as the team’s long snapper extraordinaire.

It wasn’t an outstanding day by Huber, but he did get two of his five punts inside the Titans’ 20-yard line. We really just couldn’t leave him off, as he was the holder on all of McPherson’s great kicks, as well.

More franchise demons slayed:

First it was creating a playoff team out of two years’ worth of thin air. Then, it was getting the 31-year anvil off of the back in the form of beating the team that created the postseason curse in the 2022 opening Wild Card round.

This past week, it was rookies setting records, their second-year quarterback balling out and the eliminating of another stigma off of the franchise bucket list. Cincinnati has now finally won a road playoff game—no small feat given that it was against the No. 1 seed this year.

The amazing 2021/2022 season continues:

It’s been a season for the ages, even if it ends after next week. There are many stigmas that have been erased, and it appears the Bengals are in the beginning stages of a dynasty. Let’s keep having fun.

Weird penalties against Cincinnati actually benefitting the Bengals:

In almost any scenario, penalties against you in the NFL will hurt. Yet, on two occasions, penalties ended up helping the Bengals to the tune of a handful of points.

On the team’s opening offensive drive, Burrow was sacked on a third-and-9, seemingly pushing them onto the fringes of McPherson’s range. However, a delay of game penalty was called, giving the Bengals a second chance, and they used it to gain some yards and create a more makeable attempt for the rookie kicker.

When the Titans scored a touchdown later on, a 12-men-on-the-field penalty was called against Cincinnati, allowing Mike Vrabel to call for his team to go for two. The attempt failed, and it was a big momentum swing for the Bengals.

The bad

Continuously settling for field goals:

The insanely great kicking by McPherson in the first two games of the postseason have continued the Bengals’ fun ride. He’s 8-for-8 in the team’s two postseason wins, with four makes in each contest (two of which have been for over 50 yards).

While it’s been the ticket to the team’s first two postseason wins in over three decades, a similar output will likely make for a heartbreaking result next week against the Chiefs.

Only one touchdown scored:

Just kind of coat-tailing on the previous point, Cincinnati only cracked the end zone once on Saturday and just twice against the Raiders. This simply can’t happen against that explosive Kansas City offense—particularly in Arrowhead Stadium.

Not much out of the run game:

Really, aside from the first possession of the second half, the Bengals had a really tough time gaining consistent yards on the ground. Mixon had a couple of nice runs in that third quarter drive, but 18 carries for 65 yards and a 3.6 yard per carry average as a team isn’t ideal.

A lack of consistent pressure:

We’re not sure if Trey Hendrickson was truly 100% or not and the absence of Larry Ogunjobi was felt this week, but Cincinnati needs to boost its pass-rush this week against the Chiefs. They had a handful of pressures and quarterback hits on Ryan Tannehill, but it was inconsistent throughout the game, leading to just one sack.

The ugly

The offensive line, sacks and quarterback hits:

Nine sacks and 15 quarterback hits on the franchise quarterback is not ideal. We know that not every sack should be credited directly on the offensive line, as a number of factors are at play.

Between coaching, possible personnel reviews and the Chiefs’ pass-rush not being quite as potent as the Titans’ ferocious one (Kansas City’s is still pretty good, though), things shouldn’t be as bad this week. The good news is that Cincinnati proved, at least last week, that they can get a win, despite giving up a postseason record of sacks. It’s not a sustainable strategy though, so this needs to improve over the next two weeks.

A.J. Brown torching the Bengals:

Cincinnati held Henry to a pedestrian performance, while also limiting Julio Jones to just 62 yards, but one member of Tennessee’s lethal triad of weapons went off. Brown torched the Bengals and one of their best defensive backs in Chidobe Awuzie (among others) to the tune of 142 receiving yards, a 28.4 yards-per-catch average and an amazing touchdown grab.

A little scary when you’ve got Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Travis Kelce on deck.