The Cincinnati Bengals looked like themselves for the first time this season in a 34-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals. The victory helped the Bengals avoid a 1-4 start that could have tanked their playoff hopes. Instead, the team has life and a whole lot of momentum (if you believe in that sort of thing).
So here are seven things we learned or were reinforced last Sunday:
#1 - Joe Burrow is getting better
Not only is the superstar QB getting healthier, but his arm actually seems to be stronger this year now that we’ve finally seen him be able to properly plant his foot when he throws.
In case you missed it, Burrow threw an absolute dime for a 63-yard touchdown to Ja’Marr Chase:
What’s really impressive is that Burrow hit Chase in perfect stride, even though the ball traveled the greatest distance of Burrow’s career, 58.1 yards.
"It was a great throw. Perfect throw."— Olivia Ray (@OliviaRayTV) October 9, 2023
"Joe told me after the play, he said, 'I didn't under throw you that time.'" - @Real10jayy__
Per @NextGenStats: Joe Burrow's 63-yd TD to Ja'Marr Chase is the longest completion by air distance of his career at 58.1 yards... #Bengals |… pic.twitter.com/MA18DzXs8d
Yeah, we’ve seen a lot of big plays from Burrow to Chase, but this was one of the most exhilarating in terms of the flair and spiciness of it. And it seems we might see more really deep shots from Burrow in the coming weeks.
#2 - Trenton Irwin is the real deal
The undrafted receiver out of Stanford had a heartwarming stint last season (15 receptions, 231 yards, and four touchdowns), but the assumption was that he wouldn’t play a big role this year. Not with Chase and Tee Higgins back plus the additions of Charlie Jones and Andrei Iosivas through the Draft.
Boy was that assumption wrong. With Higgins out, Irwin stepped up with eight catches for 60 yards, second best on the team only to Chase’s record-setting day.
#3 - Ja’Marr Chase can never be doubted again
Though only 23 years old, Chase has the wisdom of a 90-year-old monk. He told Burrow to take his time and come back Week 5. Well, Week 5 arrived and Burrow finally looked like himself. He said “I’m always f—g open, and he proved it with 15 receptions on 19 targets, 192 yards, and three touchdowns against the Cardinals. The Bengals would be wise to listen to their superstar receiver from here on out.
#4 - This is still very much Burrow’s offense
Like it or not, the offense survives because of splashy plays from Burrow (often to Chase). And we learned on Sunday that a lot of those plays aren’t even planned. Zac Taylor shared that the coaches were screaming for Burrow to throw the ball away on one of Chase’s touchdowns. But the two were in a groove and completely on the same page. And that’s good enough for this team to win.
Taylor: Can’t tell you how many times on that touchdown to Ja’Marr today we said “throw the ball away” on the headset.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) October 8, 2023
Taylor says great players make plays and that’s special magic he’s got.
#5 - Trey Hendrickson has gone beast mode
The 28-year-old defensive end seems to have finally hit his peak, which has got to be scary for opposing offenses. With 2.5 sacks against the Cardinals, Hendrickson now has six sacks through five games (including five in his last three games). He is only the fifth Bengals defender to reach that mark so early:
trey hendrickson is the fifth bengal to notch six sacks in the first five games of the season. geno did it twice on opposite ends of his career because of course he did. never forget the antwan odom packers game. someone tell me who james francis is. pic.twitter.com/8YjkXQzLOr— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) October 9, 2023
Not only that, but he has had three sacks erased by penalties.
Trey Hendrickson is at 6 official sacks through 5 games, and has had 3 more erased by penalties that had no other impact on the play. Having a monster year as a pass rusher and has been an absolute force closing games when they've been leading late.— Jake Liscow (@JakeLiscow) October 8, 2023
Hendrickson is one of the hottest pass rushers in the league, and that’s a big advantage for a defense with a young secondary that’s finally coming together as a unit.
#6 - The Bengals badly miss Samaje Perine
We all knew Perine was a great pass-blocking running back. But his absence has been felt perhaps more strongly than anyone could’ve imagined. Trayveon Williams missed a key block that resulted in Burrow getting sacked and then shouting at him (the two made up afterwards, of course).
But it’s also Perine’s hard running and ability as a receiver that has completely vanished from the team. Mixon carried the ball 25 times against the Cardinals and Williams just once. That simply isn’t sustainable. Mixon has 1,398 carries in his career. He shouldn’t be the lone back getting significant snaps. And the running backs totaled just 15 yards receiving in the win.
#7 - This defense is about to go off
All it took was a great game from Burrow to give the defense the confidence it needed to start ripping out the hearts of opposing players. Cardinals QB Josh Dobbs had gone the entire season without throwing an interception. The Bengals picked him off twice at home. Hendrickson had his best game of the year. Germaine Pratt had 10 tackles, 2.5 stuffs, and an acrobatic pick. Plus he predicted Cam Taylor-Britt’s interception:
That’s confidence. And that’s what a healthy Joe Burrow does for a squad.