The Cincinnati Bengals avoided going 0-6 in the division by winning their final game of the 2023 season against a Cleveland Browns team sitting their starters. The offense exploded in the first half, scoring 24 points, and the defense was able to do enough to finish the season with a winning record.
Here are a few highlights from a meaningless, but fun game:
- Joe Mixon ran like a man possessed. He ran the ball 14 times for 111 yards and a touchdown, and he caught one pass for six yards and another touchdown. He finished the season strong, ending with over 1,000 yards, averaging four yards per carry, with nine touchdowns, adding 376 receiving yards and an additional three receiving touchdowns. The Bengals running game throughout the majority of the season was stale, and the Bengals could save money by moving on from Mixon after this season. However, if Chase Brown is given more carries, acting as the lighting to Mixon’s thunder, and if the Bengals can make adjustments, possibly helping the offensive line, I wouldn’t mind seeing Mixon on the team next year.
- If I had to guess what happens with Tee Higgins, I’d say the Bengals use the franchise tag to keep him in stripes for the 2024 season in hopes of making another Super Bowl run. That’s no guarantee, though. I don’t think Andrei Iosivas is a Higgins replacement, per se, but I do think Iosivas has proven that he has what it takes to make it in the NFL, or at least in this system. I’m excited about his future in Cincinnati and in the NFL.
- I do think I know what’s going to happen with Tyler Boyd. I do believe Boyd has played his final snap for the Cincinnati Bengals. I hope I’m wrong. I hope the Bengals work some financial magic and are able to keep Chase, Higgins, AND Boyd along with Burrow for the next 10 years. Unfortunately, there is a very real business side to things, and I understand the Bengals have to operate within that space. I wish Boyd the absolute best. I hope the Bengals win the Super Bowl after the 2024 season. If they can’t, I hope Boyd wins it with whichever team he lands on. Unless that team is the Steelers, Ravens, or Browns. Or the Chiefs. Or the Rams. Or anyone in the AFC.
- Jordan Battle had a game, and I think he’s going to be a really good safety in the NFL. He plays faster than his RAS would have you believe he’s capable and really reminds me of Vonn Bell in several ways. Dax Hill is a crazy good athlete, and I think he’s going to be a great defensive asset for the Bengals. I hope he’s the Jessie Bates replacement the Bengals thought he could be. The secondary needs him to be.
The season is over, and the Bengals are heading straight into offseason mode while 14 other teams continue their quest for a Lombardi Trophy. Here are the matchups in the first round and who I think will win.
- Packers @ Cowboy - Cowboys
- Rams @ Lions - Lions
- Eagles @ Buccaneers - Eagles
- Browns @ Texans - Browns
- Dolphins @ Chiefs - Dolphins
- Steelers @ Bills - Bills
Finally, here are some random observations from Week 18, and on the season as a whole.
- I absolutely HATED seeing Boyd drop that pass that probably could have gone for a touchdown. I would have liked to see him take one to the house on what is likely the last game of his career with the Bengals.
- Trey Hendrickson has absolutely been one of the best free agent additions in the history of the franchise, and his 17.5 sacks in 2023 tie him for second in the NFL. I’m very happy he’s locked up for the next couple of years.
- The interior of the defensive line, without DJ Reader, is thin. The whole defense suffers when Reader isn’t available. They absolutely need to re-sign or replace him with someone else. Considering his health, their hands may be tied.
- The core of this team has been Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Joe Mixon, DJ Reader, Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard, Mike Hilton, and Cam Taylor-Britt, among others. Next year it could be Burrow, Hendrickson, Hubbard, Hilton, and CTB. There are obviously a lot more players that contribute, but the players on the first list have been instrumental, and, as you can see, the second list is missing a lot of those players. That’s not to say Higgins and Mixon aren’t going to be on the team, I’m just saying the potential is there. There is work to be done. A lot of work.
- I do think Zac Taylor is the right head coach. He’s installed the kind of culture players want to perform in. I wasn’t 100 percent sure if it was Burrow, Taylor, or both when it came to who to attribute the team’s recent success. Obviously, Burrow is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when he’s healthy, and I’m talking about the top two. I do think it’s both, though.
- This whole season, from the very beginning, had a very off feeling. I’m not sure how else to describe it. In the beginning, it was clear Burrow’s health was the issue. Then that got better and then way worse. But then things got better and then worse again. It was a wild rollercoaster of a season that I, for one, am happy is over and behind us. On to bigger and better things!
- If nothing else, Jake Browning showed the NFL he’s a capable backup quarterback in the NFL. I think he’s probably better than a handful of starters in the league as well. He said after the game, and I’m paraphrasing, that he believes he’s one of the best 32 quarterbacks in the league who just happens to be on the same team as a top-five quarterback in the league. What do you think?
- I don’t believe that all of our woes were caused by Joe Burrow’s health and wrist injury. The issues with this team are much deeper than that. Lessons need to be learned from what did and didn’t work with Browning under center, and then changes need to be made. I know Burrow likes his empty sets and five wide formations, where every aspect of the offense is under his command, but maybe it’s time to start doing something different when Burrow isn’t hurt.
- A potential upside of the Bengals struggling to stop the big plays on defense is it could make teams look to other defensive coaches as their head coaching candidates. That’s bad for Lou, but good for the Bengals. I truly believe he’s still one of the better defensive coordinators in the league, and I think continuity is huge. I could see Brian Callahan or Dan Pitcher getting some attention, though.
On a personal note, I took my 11-year-old son to his first game on Sunday. I used to have season tickets, but life happened, and I wasn’t in a position to afford them anymore. I am lucky enough to go to a couple of games a year. My son has been hot and cold with football. He played over the last couple of years, and I even helped coach this last season, but he’s still not quite sure how he feels about it. Aggressiveness comes naturally to some kids, and my son isn’t one of those kids.
From the first moment we stepped foot onto our first tailgate, we were welcomed with open arms. He came home with a selfie with Andrei Iosivas, a Ja’Marr Chase rookie card, a big, gaudy white tiger pendant on a chain, and he got to play catch with Joe Mixon on top of all that. He was so excited to go to school Monday morning to tell all his friends and show all his pictures. His first game was everything I was hoping it could be and more. I honestly don’t remember a lot of the game. What I remember most, and what I’ll continue to remember forever is the joy my son got out of watching the Bengals.
I’d like to thank those of you who made sure he had a great time, especially Bengal Jim and the Bengals Captain.
Well, it’s been..... something, but now it’s over, and, at least to us, the 2024 season begins.