The Cincinnati Bengals pulled out a thrilling win, and are champions of the AFC North.
Not only did the exciting nature of the win make this game one for history books, but the stakes compounded the emotions. The Bengals pulled off an improbable victory to win the division.
What a game it was. Joe Burrow threw for his second-highest passing total of his career, only a modest 446 compared to the output from the week before. Most of his yardage went to Ja’Marr Chase, who had more receiving yards than Patrick Mahomes had passing yards. Chase had 266 yards, which was the most by a rookie in any game in NFL history, and the highest total in any game this year.
The Bengals are in the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Only Clark Harris, Kevin Huber, and Trey Hopkins were on the Bengals for their last playoff appearance.
But the Bengals were built for big games. Burrow and Chase played their best in the College Football Playoff. Tee Higgins, Jonah Williams, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, and Sam Hubbard also won national championships in college.
Here’s what we learned from the exciting, division-clinching win against the Chiefs:
The Bengals can beat anybody
Dan Hoard said it best when Evan McPherson made the game-winning field goal: “The Bengals...prove they can beat anybody.”
Obviously, the Chiefs held the top overall seed in the conference going into this game. They were understandably favored, and the upset didn’t look possible a quarter into the game.
The Bengals have played the two teams who were the top seeds in each conference last week. One team they beat; the other, they lost to in overtime by a field goal.
And yes, the Bengals can also lose to anyone. They lost some pretty dumb games this season.
Zac Taylor is improving before our eyes
A one-score game against a quality opponent? That’s the kind of game Zac Taylor would lose in his first two seasons.
The Bengals started the game down 14 points, and they went on to give up 35 points in the first half. That’s a situation most teams wouldn’t be able to dig their way out of.
Credit goes to the much-maligned Lou Anarumo and the defensive staff. They adjusted and got the stops when the Bengals absolutely needed.
But a huge reason Mahomes didn’t score in the second half is because he didn’t have the ball. The Chiefs only had three possessions in the second half, two punts and a field goal.
Then that sequence at the end to get the Bengals to the goal line was masterful. The execution wasn’t perfect, but Taylor was aggressive and kept the ball in Burrows’ hands.
It’s not easy to beat Andy Reid, especially in January. Taylor puts himself in elite company as on who can go toe-to-toe with one of the best all-time.
Trey Hendrickson needs help
Seemingly every week, we say that Trey Hendrickson is doing very well, but someone else needs to take the pressure off of him.
This week, Hendrickson did a good enough job pressuring Mahomes, but Mahomes had great enough pocket mobility to evade him.
One of the things that makes Mahomes so dangerous is that he can dodge pressure, then make off-platform throws while on the run.
So Hendrickson would put the pressure on the quarterback, then Mahomes would slide up in the pocket and deliver the throw.
Larry Ogunjobi and D.J. Reader are great at stopping the run, but they need to find a way to get into the backfield.