I wouldn’t quite call it a “vintage” win by the Cincinnati Bengals, but it was close enough. With star receiver Tee Higgins on the shelf with a rib injury, Joe Burrow channeled his tried-and-true connection with Ja’Marr Chase for the biggest offensive output of the season. The deep ball to Chase was back.
While there were plenty of moments where the Bengals fell short – and their struggles on 3rd down this season are borderline disturbing at this point – but for the first time all year the Bengals played complimentary football. The offense sustained drives, the defense forced turnovers, and the special teams capitalized on their opportunities. It was the kind of effort we’ve grown accustomed to – and one that’s been frustratingly absent through four weeks.
Today was a positive step. The Cardinals might not be a fear-inducing opponent, but they’re clearly determined to silence anyone who might think they’re tanking for Heisman-favorite Caleb Williams. The Cardinals managed to bust a couple big plays thanks to their discount-Tyreek-Hill-and-Jaylen-Waddle combination of Hollywood Brown and Rondale Moore, but ultimately the play of quarterback Josh Dobbs held them back. He threw two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, but Bengals defenders had their hands on many more.
But this win – a critical, potentially season-saving win – was powered by an offense that seemed to finally be out of the fugue state they’ve existed in for the first four weeks. Joe to Ja’Marr was back, and better than ever. With a new team-record 15 receptions for 196 yards and 3 touchdowns, Chase continues to prove he is, in his own words, “always open.” When Burrow found Chase on the deep post for a 63-yard touchdown bomb on the opening drive of the second half, it felt like a terrible weight had been lifted off the offense.
Chase wasn’t the only receiver who turned heads for the Bengals either. Playing for the injured Higgins, backup Trenton Irwin made his presence felt with 8 receptions, while Tyler Boyd stepped up in the second half with several big catches of his own. Even rookie Andrei Iosivas got in on the action with his first career reception. Overall, it was an excellent performance by the Bengals passing game.
Burrow too, in particular, deserves mention for his impressive game. After struggling to move in the pocket while recovering from his calf injury, Burrow looked spry as ever, wiggling out of sacks, extending plays and getting important yards with his legs. It was the missing element from Burrow’s game in the first four weeks – against the Cardinals, he had his magic back.
So, celebrate the Bengals 34 - 20 victory. Drink and be merry. But there are still plenty of issues that need to be addressed. Third downs continue to be a bugaboo for the Bengals, with the offensive line faltering in the face of an unheralded Cardinals pass rush, while the secondary struggled to cover and tackle consistently. And while Joe Mixon got a steady diet of carries with 25, he struggled to find room and was met in the backfield quite a few times. It’s worrisome that even after five weeks, the O-line and secondary still seem to be big weak links.
But this was a big win, no doubt. It feels funny to say a game in September is a “must win,” especially versus a non-conference opponent, but the Bengals needed to make a statement against an inferior opponent. Mission accomplished. The work recovering from their 1 - 3 start is far from over, but today’s win was an important first step. For the first time this season, the Bengals looked like themselves.