Ben Kuchipudi ‘25
After over 30 years of failing to win a playoff game, the Cincinnati Bengals have managed to not only win that elusive game but ride that momentum to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1989. Before the season, the odds of the Bengals winning the SB was 75-1, the same as the New York Jets and lower than the Jacksonville Jaguars, but they defied all odds and are now only one win away from becoming champions. This was their first winning season in five years, but this journey started right after the 2019 season.
After a franchise-worst 2-14 season in 2019, the Cincinnati Bengals moved on from their longtime signal-caller Andy Dalton and selected Heisman winner Joe Burrow with the first pick in the 2020 draft, 17 years after they selected Carson Palmer with the first pick. Burrow was coming off arguably the greatest college season ever, throwing for over 5,600 yards and 60 touchdowns, so Cincy hoped that he would be their franchise quarterback. He was off to a good start, but he tore his ACL in Week 10 of the 2020 season and would miss the rest of the season. The Bengals slumped to a 4-11-1 record and ended up with the 5th pick in the upcoming draft. The consensus was that they would take generational tackle Penei Sewell to shore up a horrible offensive line, but the Bengals shocked everyone by taking Ja’Marr Chase, Burrow’s best receiver at LSU. This was quickly written off at a bad pick, and drops in the preseason only bolstered that claim. Little did these critics know that Chase would be a huge reason why the Bengals are in the Super Bowl.
In Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings, Chase exploded for 101 yards and a touchdown, one of the multiple types of that performance that season, and along with the rest of the offense clicking, they were propelled to a 5-2 start. However, a loss to the Mike White led New York Jets kicked off a stretch where they went 2-4 and they fell out of the playoff race. After a 15-10 win in Week 15 over the Denver Broncos, Joe Burrow had a historic two game stretch that cemented him as a top quarterback in the league and the clear Comeback Player of the Year. In a blowout victory against the Baltimore Ravens, Burrow had one of the greatest single game performances ever, throwing for 525 yards and 4 touchdowns with no turnovers. In Week 17, the Bengals were sitting at 9-6, needing only a win to clinch their first division title since 2015. However, they were playing the red hot Kansas City Chiefs, who were looking to clinch a first round bye. The Chiefs held a double-digit first half lead, but the Bengals mounted a furious comeback behind Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. They erased a two touchdown deficit to escape with a 34-31 victory and an AFC North title. Burrow threw for 446 yards and 4 touchdowns, and Chase had the arguably the greatest game ever by a rookie, racking up a whopping 266 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Cincinnati ended up with a 10-7 record and the fourth seed in the AFC.
In the Wild Card round, the Bengals faced the Las Vegas Raiders, a team that made it in on the last day of the regular season. Joe Burrow threw for two touchdowns and Ja’Marr Chase once again went over 100 yards, but the defense made the big stop at the end to give Cincinnati their first playoff win in over 30 years. A week later, Cincy faced the Tennessee Titans, the number one seed in the AFC who were also getting 2020 rushing leader Derrick Henry back. Once again however, the defense won the game for the Bengals. The offensive line gave up a whopping nine sacks on Burrow, but the defense forced Ryan Tannehill into three interceptions and they held Henry to three yards per carry. The Titans had a chance to win it late in the fourth, but Tannehill threw his third interception, which set Evan McPherson up for a game winning field goal. The conference championship got off to a rough start, as Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs jumped out to an early 21-3 lead, but Joe Burrow turned into “Joe Shiesty” and led the Bengals on a 21-0 run. The Chiefs sent the game to overtime, but the defense came up huge again, picking off Mahomes and giving the Bengals great field position. Joe Mixon put them in field goal range, and Evan McPherson drilled the kick, sending the Bengals to the big game for the first time since 1989.
The 2021 Cincinnati Bengals are a model for any team, showing everyone that anything is possible even when you are doubted the most.