The Cincinnati Bengals are happy to be home. Not just because it’s Christmas Day. Nor because their plane’s engine almost failed and they had to make an emergency stop at JFK Airport. But also because they nearly suffered the same fate they dished out to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, when they came back from 17 down to win.
So what did we learn from Cincinnati’s 22-18 victory over the New England Patriots?
The o-line can manage premiere pass rushers now
Matthew Judon and and Josh Uche each had a sack. But that was about it. They didn’t disrupt the Bengals’ offense overall. Instead, they gave quarterback Joe Burrow just enough time to throw downfield when the team decided to do so.
Of course, it was clear from Cincinnati’s playcalling that they were trying to mitigate that pass rush with quick reads early on. Still, that ability to manage Judon and Uche is great progress from a line that struggled to contain even one top pass rusher earlier in the season.
The defense can punch its way out of anything
Last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bengals fell behind 17-0. What did an injury-plagued defense do? They started punching at the ball and ended up forcing a critical fumble from Tom Brady.
Against the Patriots, Vonn Bell saw that New England was about to win the game, as they had first and goal on the Bengals’ five yard line with less than a minute left. So what did he do? He took a big punch at the ball. And that’s how Cincinnati escaped with a win after almost giving one away.
All week, the Bengals’ defense studies the ways their opponents have turned the ball over. In the huddle during the fourth quarter, the Bengals noticed Rhamondre Stevenson “was playing around. We had to go get it.— Charlie Goldsmith (@CharlieG__) December 25, 2022
It led to Vonn Bell’s forced fumble. https://t.co/HzOdzALUiZ
Rotating receivers is not ideal
Both of Burrow’s interceptions came on miscommunication. Tyler Boyd of all people didn’t know where he was supposed to be on a play.
Burrow passionately speaking to Boyd on the sideline after the INT pic.twitter.com/I8YzlNm1VI— Daniel Alameda (@AlamedaViews) December 24, 2022
That is what happens when your top three receivers miss time and you start to develop chemistry with the backups. The positive side of that is that Trenton Irwin snagged two touchdowns and almost had a third.
Cam Taylor-Britt is still raw
The rookie corner clearly has the physical tools to play at a very high level in the NFL. But he has a lot of work to do in terms of the little things and his awareness on the field. This was entirely obvious on a fourth quarter touchdown reception by Kendrick Bourne. Taylor-Britt seemed to have no idea the ball was coming to the receiver.
And he has been caught not turning his head in time before. Of course, Taylor-Britt is a positive overall and often makes up for the plays he gives up by coming up with big pass breakups in the clutch.
The Bengals are in a different tier now
It was clear from Zac Taylor’s game plan that the Bengals weren’t throwing everything they had at the Patriots. Not just because it was cold. Nor because of the injuries. It was also, as mentioned above, to prevent disastrous turnovers. And still, the Bengals went up 22-0.
What happened next just goes to show you what it will take for average teams to beat the Bengals: luck. Burrow threw two uncharacteristic interceptions (one of which ended up being a pick-six) and Chase had an uncharacteristic fumble.
On defense, the only way Mac Jones and the Patriots offense scored was by desperation heaves. Their first touchdown came after the New England quarterback completed a 32 yard pass to Kendrick Bourne, who was triple teamed, on third and ten.
The second offensive touchdown came after Jones flung the ball 48 yards downfield into triple coverage again, intending Scotty Washington. But safety Trey Flowers knocked the ball down, and it just happened to bounce into the hands of receiver Jakobi Meyers for what will be officially recorded as a touchdown pass by Jones.
Oh, and Jones escaped utter disaster when this was ruled a pass and not a fumble returned for a touchdown.
In other words, a lot has to go right for most teams just to be within score of these Bengals. Now, the Buffalo Bills are a different animal. It’ll be interesting to see what Cincinnati looks like when matched with arguably the most talented team in the league.
For complete highlights of the game along with analysis, watch below: