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Tuesday Trenches: Turning Heads

This week, the national talking heads are saying what we’ve been saying for a long time now

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals are contenders to win the Super Bowl. This is who we knew they would be before the season, and who we hoped they were after the rocky start.

Joe Burrow was brilliant against the Kansas City Chiefs, leading the Bengals to a 27-24 win. That’s the same score of the AFC Championship game, and, like that game, the Bengals had to come from behind to win. Joe Burrow is 3-0 against Patrick Mahomes, and the Bengals have a new inter-conference rival.

Now at 8-4, the Bengals are in firm control of their own destiny. They hold the No. 5 spot in the playoffs as the first wildcard team, but they have their sights on an AFC North championship and a possible first-round bye.

Here are some thoughts on the game.

Burrow was surgical on Sunday

Burrow completed 25 of 31 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns against the Chiefs. He also carried the ball 11 times for 46 yards and another touchdown. He was nothing short of masterful and led the Bengals to another come-from-behind victory with a fourth quarter touchdown pass to Chris Evans (gasp!). He shredded the Chiefs defense all over the field, completing passes to eight different receivers.

Burrow has played against some of the toughest competition in the league over the last couple of weeks, but he has outplayed most, if not all, other quarterbacks in the NFL.

Pratt comes up big again

Linebacker Germaine Pratt saved the Bengals again by ripping the ball away from tight end Travis Kelce and then recovering the fumble. The offense drove down the field after the turnover and scored the go-ahead touchdown. Pratt has become one of the better linebackers in the NFL and, I believe, is the most improved player from last year.

The combination of Pratt and Logan Wilson is one of the biggest reasons the Bengals defense has been as good as it has been.

“Chase is on the case” is Tony Romo’s favorite thing to say when he calls Bengals games

Chase has been out for a month with a hip injury, and in that time, the Bengals won games against the Titans, Steelers and Panthers. The offense explored new ways to move the ball, Tee Higgins cemented his status as a true No.1 receiver and Hayden Hurst got more involved. Add that to the emergence of the running game and Samaje Perine, the offense was still humming despite Chase behind out.

Having said that, it was awesome to have him back. The whole field opens up more when he’s in the game. He led the Bengals in receiving with seven catches for 97 yards. He didn’t score any touchdowns, but he requires so much attention that he makes getting open just that much easier for the rest of the receivers.

Kevin Huber, thank you for everything!

This doesn’t have anything to do with the game on Sunday, but, as you know, long time punter Kevin Huber was released on Monday. Huber struggled this season, averaging only 37.4 net yards per punt. The Bengals made the move to call up Dru Chrisman, activating him three times, the limit, off the practice squad. Chrisman has earned the spot now, averaging 44.8 net yards per punt, but that meant there was now no room for two punters.

Huber played high school football for the McNicholas Rockets on the east side of Cincinnati, then punted for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats and was drafted in the fifth round by the Bengals in 2009. He has been the Bengals punter ever since. He was on a playoff team with Carson Palmer, multiple playoff teams with Andy Dalton, and a Super Bowl team with Joe Burrow. I wish him the best in whatever he does, and I absolutely believe he belongs on the Ring of Honor whenever he’s eligible.

The Bengals stay at home this weekend to take on the Browns in a huge AFC North battle. Winning is absolutely necessary if the Bengals want to host a playoff game instead of play on the road. Ironically, Burrow is 3-0 against Mahomes and the Chiefs, but he’s never defeated the Browns, and whoever happens to be playing quarterback for them at the time.

Here are a few things to look for this weekend.

  • The Browns will be helmed by Deshaun Watson in his second game back from his long suspension and sitting out the 2021 season with the Texans. Last week in his first game back, the Browns won, but mostly because their defense was absolutely dominant against the worst team in the NFL. Watson completed only 12 of 22 passes for 131 yards and an interception. He also ran the ball seven times for 21 yards. He was obviously rusty from not playing in over 700 days. I’m sure some rust will be knocked off between now and then, but hopefully not all of it.
  • Where the Browns may lack in the passing game right now, they more than make up for it with the running game. They boast the most talented backfield duo in the NFL with the combination of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The Browns have the fourth most rushing yards in the NFL, and they’ve scored 18 rushing touchdowns. You better believe Lou Anarumo will have the Bengals playing totally different than they did against the Chiefs.
  • The Browns have one of the best edge rushers in the NFL in Myles Garrett. He has 10 of the Browns’ 25 sacks. The Bengals offensive line has been excellent over the last few weeks. They’re gelling at the right time. They were tested against very good defenders over the last two weeks, and they’ll be tested again this week.
  • There’s not a lot of love loss between the Bengals and Browns. The Bengals need to win in order to win the division and the Browns would love nothing more than to play an early spoiler. It’s time to put this whole “Burrow can’t beat the Browns” nonsense to bed. If they play like they did the last two weeks, they will.

Finally, some random thoughts on the Bengals win over the Chiefs.

  • Perine runs like a freight train. Two weeks in a row he’s stiff armed someone to the point that he bounced their heads off the ground. When Joe Mixon is healthy, Perine needs to share touches. You have to feed the hot hand.
  • What we hoped this Bengals team would be before the season started was who they were on Sunday. The offense was unstoppable and the defense reminded the league why the Bengals went to the Super Bowl last year.
  • Eli Apple and Cam Taylor-Britt were excellent against the Chiefs, only allowing one reception for five yards between the two of them.
  • Hilton gave up five receptions, but was graded highly as a run defender. What he brings as an oft in the box defensive back is invaluable.
  • Joseph Ossai’s sack pushed the Chiefs back just enough for a missed field goal that could have tied the game. It was an awesome play and Ossai showed his motor, never stopping until he brought down Mahomes in the backfield.
  • Jessie Bates’ amazing timing on this injury was great. I mean, if I saw someone do that against the Bengals and the Bengals lost the game, I’d be pissed. But that’s not what happened. So I think it’s funny.
  • Lou Anarumo is one of the best, if not the best, defensive coordinators in the NFL. I absolutely expect there to be a lot of interest in him from teams looking to hire a new head coach.
  • CTB is looking better and better each week after he was forced into a starting role due to Chidobe Awuzie’s injury. The Bengals secondary is playing well when it matters the most.
  • The offensive line has been great lately. They started off slow due to not playing in the preseason, and they struggled in the first few games of the year, but since then they’ve gotten better and better, and now they’re playing as good as any other line in the league.
  • Behind that offensive line play, Burrow has played at an MVP level over the last few weeks and absolutely deserves to be in the MVP conversation.
  • Seeing Chris Evans involved was nice. Hopefully they find more for him to do as he’s such a great receiver out of the backfield.
  • The Bengals had the day off on Monday, but Bates reported when he went into the facility to work out that nearly the whole team was there. I love that attitude and I can see they’re hungry.
  • I think the reason there’s a saying “the good old days” is indicative of the fact that we don’t recognize when things are going well, we just miss them when they’re not. Let’s not make that mistake. Enjoy this and soak up every minute. Let’s live in the good old days!

Who Dey!