One and two never felt so good. After alternating between massively frustrating and utterly heartbreaking for two weeks, the Cincinnati Bengals finally broke through and won their first game of the season 27 - 12 over the New York Jets.
It was a strange game, a game of contradictions. Though the Bengals led the entire way and controlled the time of possession, it never felt totally secure. The offensive line finally had a good, all-around game, allowing just two sacks, but it felt like quarterback Joe Burrow was being rag-dolled every other play. Running back Joe Mixon had trouble finding open space, yet the run game was able to salt away the clock at the end behind back RB Semaje Perrine. The Jets and QB Joe Flacco were able to move the ball and make some splash plays, but they could never find the endzone.
All in all, it was exactly what the Bengals needed to get back on track in 2022. It was a coming out party for several of the Bengals most important players. After failing to record a sack in the first two weeks, defensive end Trey Hendrickson exploded for three this afternoon, and forcing two fumbles. Wide receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd had also been quiet in the two previous contests. Not anymore, as Higgins finished the day with five catches for 93 yards, Boyd with four for 105 and a touchdown. Linebacker Logan Wilson, who burst onto the scene last year with four interceptions, secured his first of the season. Safety Jessie Bates III likewise secured his first INT of the season, ending the Jets final foray toward the end zone.
Most importantly, though, Burrow looked like his old self, standing strong in the pocket, squirming and wiggling his way through chaos and danger, and finding the open man with decisiveness and accuracy. It was his best performance of the season. After two weeks of being nearly ground into powder, Burrow finally looked like the guy we all remembered from last year.
1 - 2 looks a lot better than 0 - 3, huh? The Bengals are still in the woods, but they can at least see civilization from this spot. 1 - 2 is a life-raft. 0 - 3 is being knocked off and eaten by a crocodile. 1 - 2 is some turbulence. 0 - 3 is a head-on collision with the side of a mountain.
It seemed like the Bengals really learned from the first two weeks. After falling behind early versus the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys, this week the Bengals were the ones throwing early haymakers. The protection wasn’t perfect, but Burrow had more clean pockets today than he’s had in a long, long while. The defense, meanwhile, continued their strong play through the beginning of the season, chipping in four turnovers today.
The win came at a cost, though. Stud interior defender D.J. Reader went down with a leg injury and did not return, while Hendrickson and Higgins both briefly left the game as well. Second-year WR Ja’Marr Chase had a frustrating game, dropping a couple passes and being limited overall, though he did catch a late touchdown to put the game out of reach, and Mixon, as I mentioned before, found himself running into a wall all day. There’s plenty to work on, but the Bengals reminded everyone that even on an off day, this team is still really good.
This was a game the Bengals had to win, and they got it done. It’s a quick turnaround for next week, as they face the Miami Dolphins, fresh off a victory over the juggernaut Buffalo Bills, on Thursday night. It’s another huge test for this football team - but they showed today that this team is still pointed in the right direction.