I had the feeling the Cincinnati Bengals would be nothing more than a “get-right” game for a Kansas City Chiefs team that seemed to be coming apart. Maybe it was because the Bengals were coming off a bad loss to a bad Steelers team, or maybe it was because I thought the Chiefs would figure things out.
After all, we’re talking about Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid.
Two things are clear to me now, more so than they were at the beginning of the team’s New Year’s matchup.
- The Chiefs are in real trouble, and, like the Eagles, look like a team bound to get bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
- The Bengals, despite their injuries, are a dangerous team and will fight until the very end.
Now the Bengals are eliminated from playoff contention. With one game left on the schedule, they have little to play for but pride and, for the guys entering free agency, their livelihood. Before we get to that, though, here are a few key observations from the Chiefs game.
- An 80% healthy Ja’Marr Chase is a better wide receiver than 90% of the wide receivers in the league. If there’s one thing the Bengals do well, it’s evaluating college wide receivers and drafting them. From Isaac to Chad and T.J., to A.J. and Marvin, to Ja’Marr, Tee, and Tyler, the Bengals have had wide receivers that struck fear into the hearts of defensive backs for a very long time.
- Joe Burrow will hopefully be healthy by the time camp starts, and hopefully, he remains healthy throughout the preseason and the regular season. However, recent history would tell us he may, at a minimum, miss a game or two. Hopefully not, but if he does, it’s good to know the Bengals have Jake Browning. If nothing more, he’s a very capable backup, and he won’t lose the game for you.
- The Bengals ran the ball on Sunday. Correction. The Bengals tried to run the ball. Together, Joe Mixon and Chase Brown ran the ball 24 times for 70 yards, a 2.9 yards per carry average, which is just bad, especially considering the Chiefs give up an average of 4.5 yards per carry on the season. The Bengals not only need to at least re-tool the way they approach blocking, but they also need more explosiveness from their running backs. Whether that means replacing Mixon or using Brown more, I’m not sure.
- There’s no question Dax Hill is an athlete, but he’s inexperienced. While I think he could replace Jessie Bates, I’m not sure if he’d ever be as good of a center fielder as Bates is. I think Hill could be much more useful to the defense as an extra pass rusher, an extra box defender, or anywhere. He’s the type of athlete that you can get really creative with.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the Browns game. The Browns are locked in as the fifth seed in the AFC, and the Bengals are out of the playoffs no matter what happens on Sunday. Considering this, the Browns are likely to sit most, if not all their starters for the majority of the game. Instead of talking about this game, I’ll talk about what I hope to see.
- I would like to see the Bengals offensive line absolutely dominate whatever the Browns trot out on the field, and when I say dominate, I mean block with an attitude. I want all five starters to take out every frustration they’ve had this season on the poor souls lined up across from them. If nothing else, it’ll set the tone for 2024, if all five linemen come back.
- I want to see one more great Tee Higgins game. I don’t know if he’ll be back in 2024. If I had to guess, the Bengals will use their franchise tag on him to at least keep him for one more year, but anything could happen. If this is his last game in a Bengals uniform, I want it to be one to remember.
- I think more than anything, I want Trey Hendrickson to just go off. I’m talking like a three-sack game. I would love to see Hendrickson’s name on top of the sack list at the end of the season. I still have no idea how nobody in the national media is really talking about him. What Hendrickson has done is nothing short of miraculous.
- Finally, while I am about 70% certain Higgins will be in a Bengals uniform again next season, I’m less than 30% sure Tyler Boyd will. He’s been on this team for eight years, and he’s always been a productive wide receiver, and more importantly did it with class. He’s represented the Bengals about as well as the team could have asked, and I’d like to see him go out with a bang.
Finally, here are a few more random observations on the Chiefs game:
- I hate being a “the refs screwed us” guy, mainly because that’s not often the only reason someone loses. The Bengals allowed Isiah Pacheco to run for 130 yards. He averaged over seven yards per carry. That’s one of the reasons they lost. The refs just didn’t help. The intentional grounding call was beyond awful, and there were two plays on the last offensive drive of the game where there was at least one Chiefs defensive lineman lined up in the neutral zone. No flags. It wasn’t just the Bengals game either. The Lions got royally screwed. It seems to happen at least once every week. Something has to change.
- The NFL season always goes way too fast.
- The Chiefs are in trouble. Mahomes isn’t on the same page with any of his receivers, and his receivers can’t seem to catch the ball. Travis Kelce looks like age has caught up with him a little, or he’s playing hurt, and they just don’t look like the Chiefs’ normal team.
- The fact the Bengals had the ball, down by eight, with 1:52 left in the game, and I didn’t think the game was over is a testament to Jake Browning and the Bengals coaching staff.
- The hole DJ Reader’s injury has left the Bengals is massive. His presence allows linebackers and defensive ends to do their thing without worrying much about the middle of the line. I would love to bring him back for next season (like it’s my decision), but I have no idea what his health is going to look like. It’s just another turd on the sandwich.
Finally, as for the title of this article. Relief was the first emotion I felt when the game was over. Like Frodo on the slopes of an erupting Mount Doom, “It’s over” were the first thoughts that went through my mind. No more fighting an uphill battle. Now it’s time to rest. This season has felt cursed from the very beginning, starting with Joe Burrow’s calf strain in the preseason, and ending with Browning leading the Bengals into a Week 18 game that doesn’t matter. It’s been a stressful football season (which is mostly personal), and now that the game on Sunday doesn’t matter, I admit, I felt relief. I don’t have to care so deeply next week. I felt guilty about it at first, but I’m not going to feel guilty for feeling feelings like some sort of monster.
What was your first emotion? Anger? Sadness? Grief?