Joe Burrow, Bengals Must Replicate Last Year’s Magic to Make Another Run

Joe Burrow

“Well, it’s Groundhog Day…again.” Joe Burrow and his fellows in stripes must feel like they are in the classic 1993 Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day because this year’s trek to Super Bowl LVII is eerily similar to their path to Super Bowl LVI.

For the first time in franchise history, the Cincinnati Bengals both won back-to-back AFC North titles and won playoff games in consecutive years. Burrow, in just his second postseason ever, owns the franchise record for playoff wins with four. He also owns the record for playoff passer rating (97.7) and playoff completion percentage (69.0%) so far.

Even if Burrow can be considered the greatest Bengals quarterback in history, he’s not done nor is he satisfied. In order to get by the Buffalo Bills, then the Kansas City Chiefs or Jacksonville Jaguars, he and the Bengals are going to have to dip into their tricks from last season’s magical year.

Joe Burrow and the Bengals Must Recreate Last Year’s Magic

“Do You Ever Have Deja Vu?”

For most of the 2022 season, the Bengals offensive line was…okay. At times, Jonah Williams looked bad and struggled with talented edge rushers. Other times, Burrow had enough time to sit back, relax, and go through every read and find his receiver wide open. They did not go a game without allowing a sack, but at the same time, they orchestrated massive games for both Burrow and the running backs.

That was, of course, until the starters started dropping. In Week 16, Joe Burrow’s “new bodyguard” La’el Collins went down with a torn ACL. In Week 18, Alex Cappa got rolled up on and injured his ankle. For the Wild Card game against the Baltimore Ravens, it was Jonah Williams who went down, this time with a dislocated kneecap on the opposite knee that he suffered the exact same injury earlier in the year…also against the Ravens. Both Cappa and Williams are considered week-to-week. However, expecting either to suit up for the Divisional Round matchup would be more than optimistic.

Now, the Bengals must go into the fray with three practice squad-level players. Jackson Carman looks to reprise his role at left tackle, Max Scharping will be right guard, and Hakeem Adeniji will continue working at right tackle. To say that it’s incredibly disappointing to be rolling out this offensive line after what we witnessed last year would be an understatement.

Early returns on the line’s play last week were not ideal. The only time the offensive line looked good-ish was when the Bengals used quick game. In essence, they hid the deficiencies. When they had to actually drop back, Burrow was hit quickly because Carman decided that then was the best time to do a Bobby Hart impression.

“What Did You Do Today? Oh, Same Old, Same Old”

Joe Burrow has been a bastion of consistency despite not having those massive chunk plays that you’d tune into Sportscenter to see. He continues to take what the defense gives him and carves his way down the field. Unfortunately, it’s very likely that the Bengals are going to need to revert back to their ways of 2021 and trim down their playbook to not put the offensive line in losing situations.

The Joe Burrow-Ja’Marr Chase connection is still there, evident by the fact that Chase still went for 84 yards and a touchdown off of nine receptions. His production did taper off after the Williams injury, of course. Carman’s presence handicapped the offense, despite Burrow’s great play. Plus, he had a crucial drop on what would have been a spectacular play across the middle.

Hayden Hurst was having a great game as well up until his crucial lost fumble. It was looking like he was going to have a triumphant revenge game against the team that drafted him. Either way, Hurst is going to be important for the Bengals offense against a Bills defense that has given up 639 yards and just one touchdown to tight ends this year, including the Wild Card game against the Miami Dolphins. Although, objectively, Hurst’s griddy is better than Mike Gesicki‘s.

If there is one thing that the Bengals faithful can rely on it’s Burrow and the skill players. In the Week 17 matchup that, officially, never happened, the Bengals seemingly had a fantastic script. They drove the length of the field to score the truncated game’s only touchdown with relative ease. Even after allowing Josh Allen to drive down and get a field goal, the Bengals looked like they had picked up where they left off before the tragic Damar Hamlin injury.

Buffalo’s defense is good but Baltimore’s defense is better. Even with a potentially pathetic offensive line, Burrow, Chase, and company should be able to put this team in a place to win.

“Do You Ever Have Deja Vu?”

As with last year’s run, cries of “Burrow is carried by his defense” echo on all of social media.

While it’s true that the offense struggled to put the game away at any point against the Ravens, having a good or great defense does not detract from a Championship-caliber team. Just look at how the Ravens themselves won titles with Trent Dilfer and Joe Flacco!

Lou Anarumo’s defense — save for one ugly, ugly blown coverage — continues to be the quintessential “bend-don’t-break” defense. D.J. Reader and B.J. Hill gummed up the middle of the line for Baltimore and will force the Bills to stretch their run game out. Logan Wilson and Germain Pratt continue to be severely underrated linebackers and both deserve their impending paydays.

The concern, of course, will be how can the Bengals defense contain Allen and Stefon Diggs? They’re not going to trust Eli Apple or Cam Taylor-Britt to cover Diggs by themselves, it just can’t happen. Trey Hendrickson will have to continue to play at a high level to put Allen out of his comfort zone. Allen is known for putting the ball in harm’s way…but he’s also known for making massive plays.

It all starts up front. Last week’s hero, Sam Hubbard, will have to help Hendrickson and Joseph Ossai terrorize the passing game and allow the secondary to make plays. Jessie Bates is back to playing at a high level and Vonn Bell has been as clutch as any at the safety position.

“I’m Not Going to Live By Their Rules Anymore”

The Bengals feel slighted by the NFL’s decisions regarding the no-contest in Week 17. First, we had the maybe coin flip, now, we have a game that would have been in Cincinnati had the Bengals held on to win but, instead, it’s in Buffalo. Bengals faithful feel slighted by the NFL giving the Chiefs and Bills the opportunity to begin to sell tickets to their potential neutral-site AFC Championship game in Atlanta. Given, of course, that is standard procedure; the Bengals are currently selling tickets to a potential Bengals vs Jaguars AFC Championship Game.

Cincinnati is going to, again, have to rely on Joe Burrow to overcome a bad offensive line. They, again, will have to rely on a scrappy, underrated defense to shut down an explosive offense that can score at any given moment. Will “Money Mac” Evan McPherson have to sink a game-winner as time expires again?

The Bengals Super Bowl window is open. Wide open. They’re underdogs against Buffalo. They’d be underdogs against the Chiefs. More than likely, they’ll be underdogs in the Super Bowl.

With Joe Burrow, it doesn’t matter. Win, lose, or draw, Burrow has pulled this Bengals franchise out of irrelevancy and into perennial contenders. Cincinnati will steer into the doubt that they can win at Highmark Stadium.

As coach Zac Taylor puts it, “they gotta play us!”