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Tuesday Trenches: Kings of the North

The Bengals are AFC North champions.

Syndication: The Enquirer Albert Cesare / The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

I can’t think of a bigger win against a better opponent in Paul Brown Stadium than the Cincinnati Bengals’ Week 17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

There have been other impactful and emotional victories in Cincinnati, but it has been a long while since the Bengals faced a team that hot, being helmed by a quarterback of Patrick Mahomes’ abilities, and came back from an early deficit to lock a playoff berth.

The Bengals are officially AFC North champions after beating the Chiefs by a score of 34-31. Ja’Marr Chase broke all kinds of records on a career day, and Joe Burrow showed the NFL again why he’s the one of the best young quarterback in the league.

Here’s a look at a lot that went right, a couple of things that went wrong, and a look ahead at the Bengals’ regular season finale against the Browns.

Mighty Joe Young

We’ll get to Chase in a minute, but there is no Chase without the quarterback. In the last two weeks, Burrow has thrown for 971 yards and eight touchdowns, completing 78.6 percent of his passes. He did that while being sacked seven times and taking several more hits. He’s hitting this incredible hot streak at such a good time as the playoffs are just a couple of weeks away.

Burrow is showing the poise of a seasoned veteran in the pocket and making lightning quick reads, spreading the ball around all over the field. If he had played the entire season like he played the last two games, he’d be a shoo-in for league MVP, and he’s right in line for Comeback Player of the Year.

Chasing History

Chase broke a couple records on Sunday. He now has had more receiving yards than any rookie wide receiver in NFL history with 1,429 yards, and his 266 yards against the Chiefs were most of any rookie wide receiver in a single game in NFL history. In fact, Chase had more receiving yards than Mahomes had passing yards, a fact that Chase didn’t believe at first.

The Chiefs rolled the dice and left their corners on an island with Chase all afternoon, and the rookie wide receiver burnt them over and over again. His three touchdowns—all being explosive plays—were obviously incredibly important, but his most impactful play may have been his 30-yard reception on third-and-27 to extend the Bengals’ game-winning drive. He’s reclaimed his status as the Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite, rightfully so.

The Adjustment Bureau

Back when Marvin Lewis was running the show, Bengals fans lacked any faith in the team’s ability to make half-time adjustments. They’d go into a game with a plan, and if that plan didn’t work they’d stick with it and often lose. On Sunday, the Chiefs scored 28 points on four consecutive drives in the first half against the Bengals’ defense. It wasn’t surprising to see, after all, Mahomes is going to Mahomes.

The Bengals went into the locker room and the defense made some obvious changes because they only allowed three points in the second half, which came on the Chiefs’ last drive of the game. This allowed the Bengals offense to claw their way back into the game. It’s safe to say the lack of half-time adjustments is a problem of the past.

Under Pressure

It’s a good thing that Burrow has ice water in his veins, because he was under pressure a lot on Sunday. 15 times to be exact. He was sacked four times and hit another three times. Burrow is the most sacked quarterback in the NFL so far this season, suffering 51 takedowns.

It’s nothing short of amazing that Burrow has put up the numbers he has despite being under constant pressure, but it’s clear that the first, second and third thing the Bengals need to take care of this offseason is improving the offensive line.

A look ahead

It’s unclear as to what we’ll see on Sunday when the Bengals close their regular season out on the road in Cleveland against the Browns. The Bengals are still able to go into the playoffs as the AFC’s top seeded team, but a few things would have to break their way.

Cleveland is eliminated from the playoffs. Here’s what could happen:

  • If the Broncos beat the Chiefs at home, the Texans beat the Titans at home, and the Bengals beat the Browns, the Bengals will be the No. 1 seed. The Chiefs and Broncos play on Saturday night, so the Bengals will know on Sunday if the No. 1 seed is possible. If it is, I believe the Bengals have to start their stars and go for it. If not, it complicates things.
  • There is definitely something to be said about carrying this momentum into Week 18, and then into the playoffs. Could they lose their groove it if they sit their starters? Who knows.
  • If the No. 1 seed isn’t available, I personally believe it would be better to ensure the health of the Bengals stars, most importantly Burrow, by sitting him against the Browns, who will be sending Myles Garrett his way. Hopefully it wouldn’t mess with the momentum, but if there is nothing to be gained by playing Burrow, he should sit.
  • What do you think?

To wrap things up, some random Week 17 thoughts

  • This was the most exciting win in recent memory. With the Andy Dalton teams, and even the Carson Palmer teams, going down 14-0 was a death sentence. That’s not the case anymore.
  • It’s amazing to me that any Chiefs fan or member of the organization could possibly complain about the referees. They allowed one wide receiver to burn them for 266 yards, and they continually used single coverage with no safety help against him. At what point do you think maybe we should double Chase?
  • Burrow limping off the field at the end of the game was terrifying. I was happy to see him dancing in the locker room after the game and that he seems fine.
  • It didn’t matter this week because the Bengals still won, but the almost interceptions by Eli Apple and Mike Hilton need to be actual interceptions if the Bengals want to go deep in the playoffs.
  • Burrow setting franchise records for most pass yards and most passing touchdowns in a single season in his second season in the NFL while coming off a season-ending injury speaks of how bright his and the team’s future is.
  • Losing Quinton Spain for the postseason would be devastating. Hopefully he misses this coming week at most.
  • Seeing the joy on Zac Taylor’s face as Evan McPherson’s kick went through the uprights, and seeing his emotional responses in the post-game press conferences, made me very happy. He has been through a lot over the last three years, and I’m happy he and the Bengals have found success. Now it’s Taylor’s time to prove he can do something a Bengals coach hasn’t been able to do in over 30 years: win in the playoffs.
  • Does Taylor deserve to win Coach of the Year?
  • The Bengals ran 15 plays in their final drive of the game. It was 18 plays if you count penalties. The Chiefs ran 22 plays in the entire second half of the game. Talk about flipping the script.
  • I really liked Taylor’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-one on the goal line, keeping the ball in the best player’s hands. When there were offsetting penalties called, I liked the idea to go for it again a little less, but it all worked out.
  • This is the first time the Bengals have won three games in a row since the 2015 season.
  • The Steelers and Ravens are technically still alive for a playoff spot, but a lot would need to happen. To reiterate, the Browns have been eliminated.

Who Dey!