That’s how you move on from a Halloween Nightmare.
You can call it a beatdown, a smackdown, a shellacking, a trounce, a humiliation, or an annihilation. Go ahead and pick one, it doesn’t matter. There’s no word in the English language that adequately describes the way the Bengals wrapped up the Carolina Panthers and shipped them back to Charlotte like Amazon dropped off the wrong package.
After the disappointment of Monday Night, this was exactly the kind of game the Bengals needed to have.
Running back Joe Mixon, who hasn't looked himself all year, exploded with five total touchdowns. He ran for 153 yards and would have cleared 200 easily had he not been subbed out early in the second half. He looked spry, agile and determined to put any naysayers in their place. Mission accomplished.
This was an important win for the Bengals. They showed that they could still be an explosive offense without Ja’Marr Chase. Sure, the Panthers were lining up offsides on what felt like every play, but they’ve been competent until Sunday. Likewise on defense, the Bengals showed they could still be effective without star defensive backs Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton. If the Browns game was a case against the Bengals ceiling, Sunday versus the Panthers was the case that there’s still serious untapped potential.
For the first time all season, every element of the team was firing on all cylinders. Mixon led the way on the ground, but his backup Semaje Perine chipped in 54 yards, helping the Bengals grind out a season-high 241 rushing yards. Quarterback Joe Burrow was sharp and accurate, spreading the ball around to all his available (and still very talented) receivers. The offensive line was moving people in the run game and kept Burrow clean despite being up against a (somewhat) potent pass rush. The defense forced two interceptions and special teams forced another fumble.
Of course, it’s important to keep things in perspective. This is a Carolina team that’s already fired its head coach and benched its starting QB at halftime. They traded away their best player, new San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey, at the trade deadline, because they know they’re not a playoff team. But still - this is the NFL, and every win matters.
So now, the Bengals are 5 - 4 and heading into their bye-week. They were 5 - 4 at one point last year, too. Sure, it was under vastly different circumstances, but the fact remains: the Bengals are still a contender in the AFC.
The bye week is an opportunity to regroup, take stock, and consolidate. It’s also an opportunity to get healthier. Unlike last year, this Bengals season has been partially defined by the rash of key injuries they’ve suffered. Perfect time for a break.
The Bengals played their best game of the season against Carolina, and they did it without arguably their best offensive player. That’s something to be proud of, no matter the conditions or the opponent. The Bengals still have a lot to prove, especially in the division, but they proved to themselves that their true star power is their resiliency.