The Cincinnati Bengals achieved a trademark win against the Chiefs for the third time in as many tries. While these games get files under “iconic” in the NFL archives, each potential future matchup raises the stakes in the budding rivalry.
Here are the best and worst facets of the Bengals’ 27-24 win over Kansas City.
Officially among the AFC’s perennial elite:
All offseason and through the regular season, the talk about the AFC powerhouses centered around the new-look AFC West, the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens and these Kansas City Chiefs. All warranted, given the talent and big springtime moves from a lot of these clubs, but the reigning AFC champs were noticeably absent from a lot of these conversations.
In back-to-back weeks, most folks wrote off the Bengals as not being able to repeat their path to Super Bowl LVI with consecutive wins against AFC South-leading Tennessee and the might Chiefs, even after going 6-2 since an 0-2 start. Well, these overlooked Bengals took the disrespect to heart and made sure eyes were on them after two huge wins.
Because of early divisional stumbles, the Bengals don’t have quite the same playoff footing as the Bills and Chiefs at the moment, but they’ve moved up and currently hold the top Wild Card spot.
Personnel losses, yet others stepping up:
Joe Mixon didn’t play again this week, which is a shame that he hasn’t been able to play much at all since his franchise-record, five-touchdown performance against the Carolina Panthers a few weeks ago. Samaje Perine has done nothing but been methodical and efficient in all aspects of the game, aiding the offense greatly. Additionally, Trayveon Williams and Chris Evans have stepped up in reserve roles the past couple of weeks, respectively.
To boot, Cincinnati lost valuable pass-catching option, Hayden Hurst in this one. Mitchell Wilcox was asked to step in to contribute and did so as a receiver and a blocker.
While Cincinnati was fortunate enough to get back very important players the past couple of weeks, this continued “next man up” mentality will be needed to close out the regular season and into the postseason, should they ride the momentum and get there.
A lot of bullies actually end up being windbags, wherein the talk is actually more prevalent than shows of force or dominance. Those are the ones that are easily toppled once someone on the playground musters the courage to finally step up to them.
Those who usually step up to the bully are often reserved and end up channel the dramatics of the kid who likes to push people around. This can sit for some time until it manifests in their own actions of dominance. What am I babbling about, you ask?
Just have a look at Perine’s game on Sunday. For the second consecutive week, his highlight reel of plays was headlines by a sledgehammer of a stiff arm on an opponent, and he was constantly seen breaking first contact.
Though he plowed through the Kansas City defense, namely Justin Reid, who decided to be mouthy this week, he didn’t get in anyone’s face about it. We like to think he was hiding a big grin behind his facemask and bushy beard, preferring to high-five with his teammates, en route to a day with 155 scrimmage yards (49 receiving, 106 rushing).
Samaje is a bully. That arm nudge at the end pic.twitter.com/8A5hn6MK5d— Orange&Black Insider (@BengalsOBI) December 5, 2022
For the most part, play-calling/schemes:
When your quarterback misses just six passes on the day (with one egregious drop) and you out-gain Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, that points to a good day from the guys in the headsets (and, yes, Joe Burrow, too).
The fourth down stop featured a creative look that likely would have netted the desired result, if not for a great individual play by Carlos Dunlap, who, you may remember, has a little bit of familiarity with the Bengals and this staff.
Zac Taylor was really in his bag calling plays this week pic.twitter.com/m0P6LutWra— Mike (@bengals_sans) December 5, 2022
On the flip side, Lou Anarumo stuck to his plan of playing a contain-type of defense up front, while loading up the back of the defense to limit Mahomes’ innate ability to create huge passing plays while ad-libbing. If you were to say ahead of this game that Mahomes would only complete 16 passes on a 59 percent completion rate, 223 yards and just two total touchdowns, you would have immediately chalked that up to a Bengals win.
While they conceded yards and big plays against the run because of it (kudos to the Chiefs for actually sticking to that element this time around), Anarumo and his unit once again flustered Mahomes to net the win.
Given the notoriety of the game and Burrow’s performance, this could be argued to be Burrow’s best single-game performance to date. He did a little bit of everything, hitting eight different receivers for 286 passing yards.
But, as usual, his decision-making was excellent, opting to utilize Perine when other options weren’t there and/or avoiding taking sacks while being antsy for a big play. He played turnover-free ball, as compared to a three-touchdown day, including one on the ground (he was masterful in navigating positive yards with his feet, too).
He was at 81 percent for a completion rate on the evening and oh, those tight window throws. While completing his trademark back-shoulder throws, Burrow also put a number of balls within insanely small windows and yet, Cincinnati kept making the play.
Not starting the talk, but finishing the conversation:
Bragging rights and playoff seeding implications were always going to be there for this one, as was the “revenge” storyline for the Chiefs. But, Reid took it to another level with a slight of Bengals offensive players—be it by forgetting their names (intentional?) and/or a shutdown proclamation.
By now, we know he was the recipient of a couple of bruising wake-up calls by Perine, while Ja’Marr Chase nearly hit the 100-yard plateau in his first game back in a month and Tee Higgins getting the game-winning catch. Yes, Chase received a taunting penalty, but for the most part, it was the Bengals’ on-field responses to the early week war of words.
When one talks the talk before a game, the pressure automatically gets placed upon them and their team. When the other squad gets this “bulletin board material” they gain the upper hand, depending on their response. Cincinnati didn’t get into verbal back-and-forths through the media, but rather let their play speak for itself.
Giving up a big early lead:
The script of this game, as compared to the two matchups last year, was completely flipped. This time, Cincinnati shot out to a big 14-3 lead, only to give up 14 unanswered points and three Chiefs touchdowns in as many drives (two-play series at the end of half notwithstanding) in the second and third quarters.
Cincinnati thankfully found a way to dig deep with a small handful of big plays on defense and special teams to put them in position to win, but it’s one of those elements they need to fix as the regular season concludes and the postseason is in view.
Recent penalty uptick:
Cincinnati has long been able to hang their hat on being one of the lower-penalized teams in the league under Zac Taylor and this year is no exception. The Bengals have amassed the sixth-fewest penalties this year (62), and have the fourth-fewest penalty yards (463). This puts their game average at 5.1 penalties against and 38.6 penalty yards given up per game.
Those numbers have shifted a bit drastically against two of the better teams the past two weeks. Against the Titans (nine) and Chiefs (six), Cincinnati has had 15 accepted penalties against them, and 145 total yards against (72.5 yards per game).
While they were able to overcome those errors, and it’s especially admirable they were able to against premier teams, it’s something they’ll need to get back under control.
Leaving points on the board:
Believe it or not, this game could very well have been a bit more lopsided in the Bengals’ favor. Tyler Boyd inexplicably dropped a Burrow dime right in front of the pylon that would have given the Bengals a 21-17 lead in the third quarter.
To boot, preceding the Boyd drop was the aforementioned fourth down stop. One can debate the aggressiveness there, but I’m personally inclined to have preferred the team go for the field goal there once they didn’t snap the ball to get them offsides on the first try.
Regardless, that’s anywhere from 7-11 points Cincinnati left out on the field. I hate to sound like a broken record, but these events can’t happen against other elite teams as the season draws to a close.