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Bengals Break through Brady & Buccaneers

Once again, the Bengals had just about the worst start to a game possible. That’s at least the fourth time I’ve typed those words (Week One vs. the Steelers, Week Two vs. the Cowboys, and Week Eight vs. the Browns come to mind). The storyline was supposed to be Joe Burrow vs. Tom Brady, new vs. old, the apprentice vs. the master, the up-and-comer vs. the been-there-done-that - but in the first half, something much different was playing out on the field.

The Bengals entered this game down two of their defensive leaders due to injury - defensive end Trey Hendrickson and slot cornerback Mike Hilton. Their absences were, in a word, noticeable. Brady was feasting on the Bengals cornerback trio of Eli Apple and rookies Cam Taylor-Britt and Dax Hill, and the Bengals pass rush, particularly when defensive end Sam Hubbard left the game with a calf injury, was non-existent.

At least the defense had an excuse. Why did the Bengals offense look so painful and broken? The Buccaneers had more first downs than the Bengals had offensive plays at one point. The offensive line, which had looked so improved over the last few weeks, was dreadful. The run game was pitiful. This was how the Bengals first four drives ended: interception (on another tipped pass), three and out, three and out, three and out. If it wasn’t for an Evan McPherson 41-yard field goal with time expiring (which almost didn’t happen, thanks to a boneheaded play by running back Semaje Perine), the Bengals would have been shut out in the first half for the second time this year.

But thankfully, what looked like a totally different Bengals squad came out of the locker room in the second half. The Buccaneers began to look like the sloppy team. Special teams miscues, bail-out penalties and turnovers by the Bucs were godsends for a Bengals team that needed a few breaks.

Remember how bad the Bengals first four drives of the first half were? This was how the Buccaneers first four drives of the second half ended: turnover on downs (on a blown fake-punt), interception, lost fumble, lost fumble. Somehow, that’s even worse than the Bengals putrid first half. Props to the Bucs - that’s honestly incredible.

Even on an off day for Burrow, he did enough to keep the Bengals in this game. His connection with Ja’Marr Chase is amazing. As long as those two are around, it feels inevitable that the Bengals will find the way to move the ball on offense. Fellow receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd were no slouches, either. The trio combined for seventeen receptions, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion - and the Bengals needed every bit because the run game never really woke up.

So, what did we learn in this game? Frankly, nothing new - and that's what is so remarkable. We already knew Joe-to-Ja’Marr was unstoppable. We already knew the Bengals receivers were the best in the league. We already knew this defense would step up in the most critical moments. We already knew this team has zip, zero, nada quit in them.

It’s the rest of the league that’s starting to find out. “This team is for real,” CBS color-commentator Tony Romo kept repeating in the fourth quarter. No kidding - Bengals fans have been saying this forever.

I can’t blame them. The Bengals aren’t exactly known for being the kind of team that could defeat Tom freaking Brady after spotting him seventeen points at home. But this isn’t new. The Bengals played this way last year. The Bengals had a bad half, but then they regrouped and played their game. The last thing anyone should be anymore is surprised.

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