The Cincinnati Bengals are in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1988. The Bengals have had an impressive run through these playoffs. It began in the Wild Card Round at home, where they defeated the Las Vegas Raiders 26-19 for their first playoff victory since 1991. They then beat the AFC’s top seed Tennessee Titans 19-16 in Nashville the following week.
Last week they came back from a 21-10 halftime deficit to defeat the defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in overtime at Arrowhead Stadium. With that, the Bengals punched their ticket to Super Bowl LVI to face the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in a home game for the Rams.
The Bengals story is remarkable because just two years ago, they were 2-14. Because of that, they received the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and were able to Draft Joe Burrow. That was the significant acquisition that has this franchise in their third-ever Super Bowl. So let’s take a look back at their history in the big game and how they made one of the biggest turnarounds in NFL history in just two short seasons.
Previous Super Bowl Appearances
The Bengals have made two appearances in Super Bowl Sunday. They faced the San Francisco 49ers in both of those. First, in Super Bowl XVI, they were beaten 26-21 in Detroit. The second happened in Super Bowl XXIII in Miami, where they were less than a minute away from a title until Joe Montana hit John Taylor for the winning touchdown with 34 seconds remaining. The 49ers won it 20-16, which would be their third Super Bowl championship of the decade.
After this game, the Bengals would win just one playoff game in 1991. That would be their only one until the win against the Raiders in the Wild Card Round this season.
So how exactly did the Bengals go from 2-14 to the Super Bowl? Well, head coach Zac Taylor took over the team in 2019 after coming over from the Rams, where he was the quarterback’s coach. So after only winning those two games, the Bengals had the first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, where they selected Burrow after he won the Heisman Trophy and led the LSU Tigers to a National Championship.
He started ten games as a rookie going 2-7-1 before being injured in a Week 11 matchup against the Washington Football Team. He was diagnosed with a torn ACL and MCL and missed the rest of the season. He finished his rookie season with 2,688 passing yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for three more.
In 2021, he started 16 games throwing for 4,611 yards and 34 touchdowns this season while completing 70.4 % of his passes, which led the league. He is 75 of 109 (68.8 %) in three playoff games for 842 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. One downside for him and the Bengals is that he has been sacked 12 times in those three games. If Burrow can lead the Bengals to a Super Bowl title, he would join Joe Namath (Alabama and New York Jets) and Joe Montana (Notre Dame and San Francisco 49ers) as the only quarterbacks to win an NCAA Championship and Super Bowl title.
The Bengals selecting Burrow was the most significant move that helped the Bengals go from 2-14 to the Super Bowl. One of the other big moves was drafting Chase. Chase and Burrow were teammates at LSU and helped lead the Tigers to an NCAA Championship. He was drafted fifth overall in the 2021 NFL Draft and finished his rookie season with 81 receptions for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns. He will more than likely win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
After being drafted in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma, Mixon came to the Bengals. In his five seasons in Cincinnati, he has rushed for 4,564 yards and 33 touchdowns while also catching 171 passes for 1,322 yards for eight more touchdowns. In addition, Mixon has gone over the 1,000-yard rushing mark three times. He made his first Pro Bowl Team in 2021.
Higgins came to the Bengals after being drafted in the same 2020 draft class as Burrow. He was drafted in the second round out of Clemson, where he helped the Tigers win a national championship. Higgins had a great rookie season with 67 receptions and six touchdowns in 16 games. As good as he was as a rookie, he was even better this season as he had 74 receptions for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns.
The Bengals offense is one of the reasons they have made it this far. Burrow, Chase, Mixon, Higgins are a big reason the offense can score some points, but Tyler Boyd and C.J. Uzomah are vital contributors also. In addition, the defense, which finished the season 18th in total defense, has stepped it up in the playoffs. They have forced seven turnovers in their three games.
Trey Hendrickson leads the defense. He led them with 14 sacks, and Logan Wilson led them in both tackles with 100 and interceptions with four. Vonn Bell , Jessie Bates III, Chidobe Awuzie, and Eli Apple lead the secondary that has picked off six passes in three postseason games. After allowing 21 points and three touchdowns to Patrick Mahomes in the AFC Championship Game, the defense allowed only three points in the second half and forced two interceptions.
Looking Ahead To 2022 And Beyond
The Bengal’s run to the Super Bowl is surprising, to say the least, but should it be? The quarterback position is the most important in the NFL, and everyone knows that if you don’t have one, wins are hard to come by. The Bengals have Burrow, and he is a big reason they are in the Super Bowl. Any quarterback that can beat Mahomes twice, especially in the playoffs at Arrowhead Stadium, is unique. They also have Chase, and he and Burrow look like they can be a great quarterback/wide receiver connection for years to come.
They also have a great running back in Mixon, and their defense is not great, but they have been good, especially in the playoffs. The Bengals have the quarterback, the running game, and improving defense. When they start playing meaningful games in late December and January, those are all the things a team needs to make a run at the playoffs. This Super Bowl run may be surprising to NFL fans, but they should only get better with their team, and they could make another run at another. However, with the Chiefs, Tennessee Titans, Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Chargers, and New England Patriots all in the mix in the tough AFC, another Super Bowl Run will be difficult.
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