It’s never easy to get to the Super Bowl. Ask any coach or player from the NFL, past or present, and they’ll tell you the same.
What’s even harder is getting back there again—either once, or even regularly. Topping that list of difficulty seems to side with the losing team of the big game, as “hangovers” tend to take place for one reason or another.
As we speak about the 2022 Cincinnati Bengals, that seems to be the biggest current hurdle. The team engaged heavily in free agency once again to shore up their weakest area—the offensive line—and have their great, young core in place.
Still, how can this team fend off the demons from which other teams have been consumed and grab a Lombardi Trophy? To help answer this riddle, we tapped the brain of Solomon Wilcots—former Bengals defensive back who played in Super Bowl XXIII and current co-host of the Bleav in Bengals podcast with Adam “Pacman” Jones.
“Well, last year wasn’t easy, right?” Wilcots quipped when asked about the difficulty laying ahead for the team this year. “We lost two straight home games and then went to 7-6 after losing to the Chargers and 49ers. I mean, these games are hard to win, we lost two games to teams—the Jets and the Bears, right? But, then you beat the Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs...I think the real key is, even for fans to understand, winning in this league is hard!”
Cincinnati was streaky last year, catching fire at the end of the year to surge into the playoffs. They had some bumps in the back half, as Wilcots mentioned, but the Bengals grew up quickly, so to speak, and made it to Super Bowl LVI.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Wilcots continued. “These games are going to come down to the final moments, the kicks by Evan McPherson—every single one of them are going to be needed just like they were last year, the margins in our league are razor-thin, and you just have to keep stacking those moments late in games to close it out.”
Aside from the first comeback win against the Chiefs, Cincinnati had a number of close games and/or comeback wins—particularly in the postseason. Heck, the season started with a nail-biter against Minnesota and carried over in similar fashion a few weeks later against the woeful Jaguars. In talking about closing out games as a continued key in 2022, Wilcots noted that that skill is needed regardless of the opponent.
“And, when you lose some and some slip away, you’ve got to continue to believe in yourself and maintain confidence in your ability to go get it done,” Wilcots continued on the avoidance of a hangover. “And I think the fans are going to have to maintain confidence as well and not get down on them if they have a moment, or a game, or a stretch of games where it doesn’t turn out our way.”
As expected, Wilcots points to the mental aspects of the sport, as well as the intangible facet of self-confidence. The Bengals exuded that last year and, by most accounts, seem to still have that same swagger, so worries on that front have to be minimal.
Another reason why Wilcots may have focused on the intangible side of things instead of roster talent is because the Bengals’ young roster has largely stayed intact over the offseason. C.J. Uzomah was the largest example of attrition, but the vast majority of their talent remained within the walls of Paycor Stadium—something many other hangover-ridden teams of the past couldn’t boast, as they were fleeced in free agency.
Yes, teams around the AFC really went for it this offseason, but so did the Bengals with three new, high-priced starters on the offensive line. And, with the ever-confident Joe Burrow at the helm, this team will never fully be out of the Super Bowl running, it would seem.
In our 20-minute interview with Mr. Wilcots, we talked about a number of other factors, including his thoughts on Ken Riley’s latest big step towards Canton, how he felt about the defensive back-heavy draft class of the Bengals and much more.
Once again, a big thanks to Mr. Wilcots, the Bleav podcast network and Cam Rogers over there. Go check out the great show by Wilcots and Jones now! You’ll be able to see them on Bally Sports Ohio this year, too!
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