How they got here: Looking back at big moments in the Bengals season

The Cincinnati Bengals are riding high now, but their return to the NFL spotlight was far from pre-ordained.

Aside from entering the season with the usual doubts about the team coming off a loss in the Super Bowl, the reigning AFC champs had to overcome a slow start and some key injuries before finding their footing.

Once they did, they started to get back the swagger that marked their extended postseason run of a year ago and has them hoping to finish the job this time.

Here’s a closer look at how they’ve done it:

Week 1: Steelers, 23-20 loss

Anyone who forgot how wild and wacky NFL Sundays can be was quickly reminded when the Bengals nearly overcame five turnovers to top Pittsburgh. They essentially had their AFC North rivals beaten multiple times late in the afternoon only to be undone by the kicking game.

Even coming close to winning such a game gave reason to believe the Bengals would be formidable again — at least eventually — but it also left concerns about whether or not such a setback would haunt them when the season wound down.

Credit: Joshua A. Bickel

Credit: Joshua A. Bickel

Week 2: at Cowboys, 20-17 loss

Historically teams that start the season 0-2 struggle to make the postseason, but that only added to the bad vibes this defeat generated.

Joe Burrow bounced back from struggling against the Steelers, but he was still sacked six times, and perhaps more concerning was the defense getting pushed around by a Dallas team missing quarterback Dak Prescott.

Week 3: at Jets, 27-12 win

Burrow posted a quarterback rating of 114.9, and the defense forced four turnovers in avoiding a disastrous loss that could have sent the season spiraling out of control.

Week 4: Dolphins, 27-15 win

This game gave the Bengals a chance to get back to .500 on the season against a solid opponent in front of a national television audience, and they did just that. Burrow’s big three of receivers Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd all had big plays as the offense continued to work out some kinks and the defense endured some inconsistencies of its own.

Credit: Joshua A. Bickel

Credit: Joshua A. Bickel

Week 5: at Ravens, 19-17 loss

The good vibes of the previous two games were dashed when Justin Tucker knocked through a 43-yard field goal to win it for Baltimore. This game was marked by some questionable game management decisions by head coach Zac Taylor and seemed to raise the likelihood those early-season stumbles against Pittsburgh and Dallas would loom large eventually.

Week 6: at Saints, 30-26 win

The defense had one of its worst days despite facing a hobbled New Orleans offense led by old friend Andy Dalton, but Burrow and Chase enjoyed a happy homecoming when they hooked up for a 60-yard touchdown that put the Bengals on top late. That bolt of lightning prevented a bad loss and could end up being one of the low-key major moments of the season. The offense was still searching for its identity, but that didn’t matter when Chase caught a short pass and did the rest.

Credit: Butch Dill

Credit: Butch Dill

Week 7: Falcons, 35-17 win

Burrow and his big three thrived in a game that was a laugher almost from the start. The Bengals built up a 21-0 lead and cruised to a win that put Cincinnati over .500 for the first time this season and featured a yardage disparity (537-214) over more than 2-1.

Week 8: at Browns, 32-13 loss

As lopsided as the previous week was for the Bengals, this one was against them. With Chase sidelined by a hip injury, Cincinnati struggled across the board on a Monday night that saw Cleveland control the game from start to finish. Burrow was sacked five times, and the defense looked equally hapless trying to stop star running back Nick Chubb and backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

Perhaps the scariest part of this Halloween whacking was the Bengals’ falling to 0-3 in the division, not to mention Burrow going to 0-4 in the Battle of Ohio.

Week 9: Panthers, 42-21 win

The schizophrenia continued for the Bengals, who ran out to a 35-0 lead and looked like a completely different team than the one that took the field six days earlier. Joe Mixon scored five total touchdowns, and the Bengals ran for a season-high 241 yards after trying only 10 runs the previous week.

Week 11: at Steelers, 37-30 win

After a week off, the defense wasn’t great, but Burrow was in holding off another upset bid. He threw for 355 yards and four touchdowns to send the Bengals into a key stretch of the season with some good vibes.

Credit: Gene J. Puskar

Credit: Gene J. Puskar

Week 12: at Titans, 20-16 win

Tennessee fell apart down the stretch, but this was a big game at the time as it matched up 2021 division winners and gave the Titans a chance to avenge a bitter playoff defeat on their home field at the hands of the Bengals last season. Despite Chase and Mixon being sidelined, the Bengals turned in one of their best all-around performances of the season to date and started to give some hints they could be in the race at the end after all.

Week 13: Chiefs, 27-24 win

With over 300 yards of total offense, Burrow got the better of Patrick Mahomes for a third straight time to serve notice the Bengals were coming again. Germaine Pratt pried loose and recovered a fumble from Travis Kelce to set up the go-ahead touchdown, a pass from Burrow to Chris Evans, and Burrow engineered a gutsy four-minute drill to ice the game and run out the clock.

Week 14: Browns, 23-10 win

Burrow broke through against the Browns, picking up his first Battle of Ohio win owed mostly to the defense and Mixon, who returned from injury to run for 96 yards on only 14 carries. Chubb was bottled up this time (34 yards on 14 carries), and Deshaun Watson’s 299 yards were mostly empty inconsequential.

Credit: Jeff Dean

Credit: Jeff Dean

Week 15: at Buccaneers, 34-23 win

The Bengals erased a 17-0 deficit with a 34-0 run that started late in the second quarter, turning multiple turnovers into touchdowns to extend their winning streak to six and give Burrow (four touchdown passes) a win over Tom Brady (two interceptions).

Week 16: at Patriots, 22-18 win

The Bengals led 22-0 before having to hang on, downing the NFL’s king of coaches (Bill Belichick) one week after taking down his old quarterback.

Week 17: Bills, canceled

Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field and had to be revived by medical personnel, leading to the game being canceled and both teams being in the headlines all week as the entire sports world and beyond pulled for Hamlin’s recovery.

Week 18: Ravens, 27-16 win

The Bengals topped a short-handed Baltimore squad in a game that ultimately didn’t matter much because Buffalo clinched the No. 2 seed with a victory.

Playoffs, Wild Card: Ravens 24-17

After a strong Bengals start, this one nearly played out perfectly to script as the Ravens were able to shorten the game, grind out long scoring drives and frustrate a Bengals offense down three starters on the offensive line in the second half. Baltimore looked primed to take the lead when Pratt knocked the ball away from quarterback Tyler Huntley at the goal line and it ended up in the hands of Sam Hubbard, who raced 98 yards the other way for an incredible game-turning touchdown.

Playoffs: Divisional: at Bills, 27-10 win

The Bengals jumped out to a 14-0 lead and dominated the game, out-playing Buffalo in nearly all phases to earn another trip to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs for a chance to return to the Super Bowl. In the most important game of the season (so far), Cincinnati turned in arguably its best all-around performance against a team perceived to be better than them all season.

About the Author