“It was supposed to be ‘house money.’”
“They are ahead of schedule.”
“Wait until they get an offensive line and actually protect Burrow.”
These are the statements that nearly every Bengals fan has used ever since their team’s magical playoff run began with a victory over the Raiders. The fanbase has oscillated between disappointment and apathy for decades, so they adopted a defense mechanism to prevent them from getting their hopes up this year.
The Bengals started the game slow, but headed into the half only down 13-10, there was reason for optimism. The Bengals have been a great second half team since their monumental comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17. With Joe Burrow at the helm, a comeback seemed possible, if not probable.
The start of the second half only fanned the flames of optimism. A 75-yard bomb to Tee Higgins on the first play brought the Queen City to its feet. It was a contested catch against the NFL’s premier defensive back, Jalen Ramsay. There was a ton of contact, but no flag. Cincinnati looked like the team of destiny.
On the first play of the following drive, Matthew Stafford tossed his second interception of the game. A pass tipped off the hands of Ben Skowronek, landing in the hands Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, and Cincinnati was in business once again. Bengals fans had officially slid into the warm bath of optimism… and it felt pretty good.
Even the most pessimistic Bengals fans could now imagine Mike Brown passing the Lombardi Trophy between Zac Taylor and Joe Burrow. The Bengals had a 20-13 lead and were smothering the Rams’ running attack.
That’s when the party went awry.
It was then time for the Joe Burrow sackfest.
The Bengals offensive line that had held up so well during the first half was suddenly more porous than a colander. Seven sacks and 11 pressures proved to be too much for Burrow to overcome. He was bent like a pretzel and limped off the field. He was warrior all night but unfortunately couldn’t pull one last rabbit out of his hat. It was fitting that his final drive ended with back-to-back disruptive plays by Aaron Donald.
The final drive for the Rams was absolute agony for Bengals fans to watch: a jet sweep to Cooper on 4th and 1, multiple chances for stops on the 15 play drive, and a slew of penalties in the final few plays.
It was torture.
Many fans on both sides were frustrated with the officiating. For the first 58 minutes, the officials were nothing more than landscaping, and that’s the way people like it. The final 2 minutes were a different story. Holdings, pass interference, personal fouls… they all abruptly impacted the flow of the game. The final few plays of the Rams’ scoring drive were less than appealing.
The final TD to Kupp from Stafford was a thing of beauty though. Coverage from Eli Apple was good, but he was covering a 1st Team All Pro, and the All Pro won the battle. It was a great throw and a great catch to put the Rams up 23-20.
That turned out the be the last score of the game. The Bengals lost, and the consolation is that they’re a young team. “They’ll be back again” is the common refrain. But look at the young QBs in the AFC. Justin Herbert, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, and Josh Allen are young, talented and have be around for a while. Mahomes has been to four straight AFC Championship Games, but has only ONE Super Bowl crown to show for it.
There are no guarantees in life and no guarantees in football.
Bengals fans allowed themselves to believe… and that’s a great thing. But belief also leads to investment, which can soon lead to heartache and pain.
The Bengals are close and that’s great, but taking home a title is never promised.