Yes. That’s right. This post is entitled Superbowl Reflection. Years from now, hopefully someone will read this and remember the magic that was the Bengal’s 2021 NFL Season. Last time I posted, Cincy was sitting at 9-6 and had a chance to make the playoffs. After that, what followed, was sheer madness.
First, the Bengals had to play the Kansas City Chiefs. Arguably the best and hottest team in the AFC. The Bengals got down 14-0 early and were down 21-7 and 28-14 in the first half. They just couldn’t stop K.C. With about two minutes to go in the first half, Cincy got the ball and drove down the field to make it 28-17 at half. This was big. Finally under 14, it seemed like we had the all-important momentum AND the ball after half-time. After half-time the Bengals came out and went 75 yards in three plays, capped off by a 69 yd touchdown by Ja’Marr Chase. This was Chase’s third touchdown of the game. Burrow to Chase could simply not be stopped. This made the score 28-24. There was no more scoring in the 3rd quarter. Our defense changed their game plan and K.C. would only score 3 points in the entire second half. Burrow threw a TD to Tyler Boyd with about 12 minutes to go in the 4th and suddenly we had the lead. What the hell? The teams traded punts and then with 6 minutes to go K.C. tied it at 31. The Bengals offense received the ensuing kick-off and drove down the field, holding the ball for the remainder of the game and kicking a short field goal to win it. Crazy things happened in this drive. Too many to list. But one I will always remember is a 3rd down and 27 (Yes. Not a typo. 27 yards needed in one play) where Burrow threw a 30 yard sideline completion to a well-covered Ja’marr Chase on the right sideline. AFC North Champs! Holy Shit.
The Bengals played the Browns in week 18, but the coaches rested all the starters and we just basically watched on Sunday to see which team would be coming to Cincy in round one of the playoffs. Answer: The Las Vegas Raiders. We had already played an beaten the Raiders earlier in the year and despite the fact that the Raiders were pretty hot down the stretch, I felt like they were the more favorable match-up. As a Bengals fan, you have to be very careful thinking like that. I mean S & I were at the last playoff win and that was in 1991. Cincy beat Raiders when Germaine Pratt intercepted a Derek Carr pass late in the game as the Raiders were in the red-zone heading toward a game tying TD. Yes! They did it. The first playoff win in more than 30 years. The city went crazy and we started to….
Next up were the Titans in Tennessee. Again, despite the fact that that Titans were the #1 seed, I couldn’t help feel like this was the best match-up of the remaining teams. Let the Bills and Chiefs, who were both amazing, beat up on each other. It ended up being a defensive struggle. The Bengals took an early lead, but Tennessee clawed back to tie it at 16 in the 3rd. No one could score in the 4th and Burrow was sacked NINE times in the game. The defense was insane, including a 4th and 1 stop of Derrick Henry that gave Cincy the ball at our 40. We still couldn’t score. Tennessee got the ball back and was driving. With 20 seconds left Tannehill dropped back to pass and we intercepted him at the Cincinnati 48. This was our 3rd interception of the game. Burrow preceded to walk out, after being sacked NINE freaking times, and drop a dime to Chase on the sideline to get us to about the Tennessee 36. With 16 seconds to go and two timeouts left we ran the ball to line it up for McPherson. McPherson lines up and nails a 52 yd. field goal to put us in the AFC Championship game. Before he walked on the field for the kick, he looked at the back-up QB, Bandon Allen, and said “Looks like were going to the AFC Championship”. And that’s why you draft a kicker…. He did not miss in the playoffs.
Toward the end of the regular season the mantra became “Why Not Us”? Heading into this game Burrow said, “I’m tired of the underdog narrative. We’re a really good team and we’re here to make some noise”. The new mantra became, “It is us”! Next up, a re-match with the Kansas City Chiefs. This time at their house. I should add that the Chiefs beat the Bills in what was one of the best playoff games I have ever seen. They seemed unstoppable. No way we could beat them twice in a month, right?
Wrong. This game started off similarly to the last one, but worse. The Chiefs were unstoppable. They went up 21-3. We got the ball back and drove down the field for a score making it 21-10. After our score, there was about a minute left. K.C. got the ball back and they drove right down the field. They were poised to score, but time was running out. Then the Chiefs imploded and the Cincy defense took over. With 9 seconds to go and the ball on our 1 yd. line, Kansas City opted to run another play to try and score a TD rather than kicking a field goal. They were out of timeouts. Mahomes made a big mistake. With nothing open, instead of throwing the ball away and taking the sure three points, he threw a swing pass to Hill at about the 5. He was promptly tackled. No score. Half-time. You could feel the momentum change. Kansas City even got the ball first after half-time, but our defense force the punt. At this point Burrow started to will the team toward victory. He scrambled for his life, escaping a sure sack to complete a big pass and we kicked a field goal to reduce the deficit to 8. The Chiefs received the kickoff and a couple plays later B.J. Hill, a giant defensive lineman, batted a Mahomes pass at the line and intercepted the ball. Burrow brought the offense back on the field, taking over at the K.C. 25. He got in huddle and said, “After we score we’re going for two”. Think about that for a moment… A few plays later, Burrow completed a TD pass to Chase to make it 21-19 and we were indeed lining up the the two point conversion. Burrow completed a pass to a guy named Trent Taylor who had been called up from the practice squad earlier that week. Tie game. The Chiefs had to be losing their minds. How was this happening again?? Cincy’s defense continue to stymie the Chiefs, and after exchanging punts Cincinnati had the ball again. Burrow continued the Houdini act by escaping another sure sack and running for a first down. He ran up the middle gaining 12 and then completed a 20 yd. catch and run to Higgins. We moved into K.C. territory, but were stopped on a 3rd and 8. McPherson came in and nailed a 52 yd. field goal to give the Bengals the LEAD 24-21. There was still plenty of time left though and Patrick Mahomes started leading the Chiefs down the field. It looked like the Chiefs might run the clock down and score with no time left just like Cincy had done to them in week 17, but after getting to the Cincy 9 yd. line, it started to unravel. A strip sack almost ended the game, but the Chiefs recovered the ball. On the next play Mahomes again dropped back to pass. He ran around for what seemed like a full minute before Sam Hubbard came out of nowhere to drop him for a big loss. Now what at minimum was a short kick to tie if they didn’t score the TD was now a 41 yd. field goal. However they did convert and we were headed to overtime. The coin flip was huge. No way you wanted Mahomes to have the ball first. If they scored a TD, the game was over and Burrow never gets back on the field. The Chiefs won the toss and the K.C. fans went crazy. So sure that that’s exactly what would happen. The Chiefs received the kickoff and on 2nd & 10 Mahomes throws one that hits Eli Apple in the hands. He drops the interception and you’re just sure at that point that this was our missed opportunity. Mahomes drops back on 3rd and 10, throwing deep down the field. Jesse Bates pokes the ball and Von Bell catches the ricochet for an interception. Holy shit! What just happened??? The Bengals take over at their 45. Burrow completes to Higgins for 9. He hands off to Mixon on the next play and Mixon runs for about four and a first down. Another ten yard pass to Higgins and we are in field goal range. Now we hand off twice to Mixon for beastly runs of 7 and 16 to set up a chip shot. We run one more play to line it up on the right hash for McPherson. He nails it from 31 and we are in the freaking Superbowl! I have no words even now to describe how unreal this seemed.
Headline of the Enquirer
Now for the bad news. We didn’t win the Superbowl. We played the Rams and lost 23-20. We actually had the lead with under two minutes to go. Losing was sad, but I choose to remember the amazing season that this unbelievable team had. Thank you Bengals. It was a blast. Hopefully we’ll be back.