For most ordinary football fans, if I said at the beginning of the NFL season that the Cincinnati Bengals were going to be in the Super Bowl, a lot of you would say that I was crazy. I don’t blame you. No one saw the Bengals going to the Super Bowl this year, but they defied all the odds and are now heading to the Super Bowl. So let’s recap how the Bengals got to the big game.
The Bengals hired a new Head Coach, Zac Taylor, in 2019, and they were one of the worst teams in the NFL in the 2019-2020 season, finishing the season 2-14 and securing the No.1 pick for that year’s draft. While that was happening, Joe Burrow was having one of the best college football seasons as a quarterback at LSU, throwing for 60 touchdowns and throwing for more than 5,000 yards and winning a national championship.
In the 2020 draft, the Bengals had the first pick, and they chose Joe Burrow the first overall. His rookie year was cut short because he tore his ACL in week 11 against the formerly known as Washington Football Team–now the Washington Commanders. They finished that season 4-11-1.
The one big goals in the offseason for the Bengals was to improve the offensive line to protect Burrow at all cost in the NFL draft, and the Bengals had the 5th pick. The sports media wanted Cincinnati to get the best offensive linemen in the draft. but they went a different direction and drafted receiver Ja’Marr Chase out of LSU, who played with Joe Burrow at LSU and had chemistry in college. Ja’Marr had a record-breaking first season in the NFL. The 21-year-old finished with 81 receptions for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns. He had the most receiving yards by a rookie in the Super Bowl era and will likely win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
There were also some key signings on the defensive side this last off-season, like Trey Hendrickson, Eli Apple, and Chidobe Awuzie to get them where they are now. So let’s give a little more context. How impressive this 2021-2022 season was for the Bengals? The past two seasons before this one were 6-25-1. They were tied with the New York Jets and the Jacksonville Jaguars for having one of the worst odds to win the Super Bowl ahead of the Detroit Lions and the Houston Texans.
The Bengals got off to a hot start with a 5-2 record but lost their next games, one being the New York Jets heading into the bye week which is still a head-scratcher too many, but they rallied back to winning five of their last eight games getting a big win–one against one of the two best teams in AFC conference the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Bengals also won the AFC North division for the first since 2015 and got the No. 4 seed in the playoffs in the wild card game. They faced Las Vegas Raiders and took care of them with a 26-19 victory. They headed down to Nashville to face the No.1 seed Tennessee Titans. It was an ugly game for the Bengals. Not a lot of scoring happened in this game. The Bengals only scored one touchdown, the rest of the points came from field goals. The important sequence of events that happened is when Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill threw a bad interception to Bengals at midfield for the Bengals only needing about 15 yards to set up their kicker Evan McPherson for a 52-yard field goal to win in the divisional round, sending the Titans home early and moving on to AFC championship game.
Next up was the Kansas City Chiefs who hosted their four straight AFC championships in Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs had just come off one of the greatest playoff games anyone had ever seen against the Buffalo Bills. The Bengals didn’t get off to a good start as they were down 21-3 early in the 2nd quarter, but the Bengals got a touchdown to cut the Chiefs’ lead to 11 with about a minute left on the game clock.
The Chiefs got down the field quickly to the 1-yard line and had just kicked the field goal to extend their lead to 14, but they got greedy and wanted a touchdown. Patrick Mahomes threw a short pass to Tyreek Hill for no gain at the goal line, so the halftime score was Chiefs 21, Bengals 10.
Looking back, that was one of the main reasons why the Chiefs lost this game, because if the Chiefs had just kicked the field goal, they would have been up 14 and getting the ball to start the second half with all the momentum still on the side of the chief of Kansas City scored another TD. I don’t think the Bengals would have come back and stayed in the game. The Bengals made the adjustments in the second half of the game and held the Chiefs’ explosive offense to three points the entire second half. Those three points came at the end of regulation when the Chiefs forced overtime.
The Chiefs won the coin toss and anyone who saw the Bills and Chiefs game had thought the same thing: the chiefs just won the game because overtime rules didn’t favor the Bengals at all. After all, teams that lost the overtime coin flip were 1-10 in NFL playoff history. I give credit to the Bengals’ defense. They stepped up and got the stop and turnover they needed to go win the game. The kicker Evan McPherson just needed his team to get him in range, so that’s what Joe Cool did a.k.a Joe Burrow. He led his team on a nine-play drive to set up the 31-yard game-winning field goal and sends the Cincinnati Bengals back to the Super Bowl since 1988 to face Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams.