INglewood, CA – A sea of orange Cincinnati Bengals jerseys, “Who Dey,” chants and fake Cartier sunglasses filled the SoFi Stadium during the Super Bowl on Sunday.
The venue hosts the Los Angeles Rams, who have been facing Cincinnati, but the influx of Bengals fans made it feel like Ohio. No matter that Bengalis weren’t supposed to be here.
Not after Joe Burrow injured his knee last season and was unable to complete the junior season. Not yet, Cincinnati used a top-five draft pick to pick Ja’Marr Chase, Burrow’s favorite target at Louisiana State, rather than cementing her offensive streak, one of the worst in the league. Not while playing in the competitive North Asia, where illustrious Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and the reconstructed Cleveland Browns were supposed to rule.
The Bengals overcame these factors and reached the Super Bowl, and they were just a few plays away from winning it. Their 23-20 defeat to the Rams, while snappy, showed that Cincinnati could remain a force for years to come.
Had those plays at the end of the match gone differently, the Bengal team would have lifted the Lombardy Trophy at the Pete Rams Stadium. Instead, the Los Angeles players jumped for joy on the field and ran into the end zone as time ran out.
In the fourth quarter, with a 20-16 lead, Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd dropped a pass with a great potential to run in third, forcing Cincinnati to run with more than six minutes remaining. This prevented Cincinnati from turning and chewing on the watch. The Rams’ crime, with a new life, walked into the red. In two different plays, penalty shootouts by the Cincinnati defense gave additional opportunities for Rams to strike. One, a 1-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp, succeeded, giving Los Angeles the game-winning score of 1 minute 25 seconds left. An incomplete pass in fourth place on Cincinnati’s last possession ended any Cinderella story chances.
“that it Bengals coach Zack Taylor said at a post-match news conference. “It’s rare that you coach a team like this. I am proud of the way they fought. I thought they did so much for our team, our organization and our city and they should be really proud of that.”
It’s not as sweet as a fairytale, but the Bengals’ reaching this peak is their own kind of success. They won just four games last season and slipped towards the bottom of the league standings. The goal of Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, was to revive a franchise that hadn’t won a playoff game since 1991. Instead, his debut season was defined by stationary sacks behind one of the NFL’s worst offensive streaks, a tear in his The left anterior cruciate ligament at week 11.
With the fifth selection in the 2021 draft, the Bengals could bolster their offensive streak with Oregon’s Benny Sewell or Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater. But at Burrow’s behest, Cincinnati chose Chase, who won a national championship with Burrow at LSU in the 2019 season. It could have been a mistake, and some believe it was, because the Bengals already had a strong receiving corps with Boyd and Tee Higgins.
But that decision ignited this Super Bowl race, and produced an exciting, youthful attack. With running back Joe Mixon, who rushed for 1,205 yards and 13 touchdowns, and rebuilding a defense with hard-working free agents, the Bengals won 10 games. Chase won the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year after posting 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns in the regular season. Burrow won the Comeback Player of the Year Award, rebounding from a terrible knee injury to throw for 4,611 yards and 34 touchdowns. (His affinity for luxury sunglasses inspired an influx of knockoffs on Sunday.)
In the North Asia region, the Bengals outperformed the injury-plagued Ravens, the inconsistent Browns and the underperforming Steelers, to claim the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. This young team then demonstrated its resilience by overcoming the deficit against the top-seeded Titans, who tied a post-season record with nine Burrow sacks, and against Kansas City—both games on the road—to reach the Super Bowl.
“These play-off matches weren’t easy, and even after that, we had some tough matches,” Taylor said. “Our guys have proven that they can do a lot of great things in those situations and they put us in these moments.”
And in the global spotlight, they kept quiet. Instead of being distracted by the temptations of Los Angeles, they kept to themselves. As the city swirled around them, players said they watched the Ultimate Fighting Championship matches. Taylor said he only left his hotel room for rehearsals, team meetings, and a trip to the In-N-Out Burger. The two-year transformation of the franchise has been impressive, and will set the standard for the Bengals moving forward. The surprise contenders, in next year’s Super Bowl, are no longer expected to be there.
“We’re a young team and you want to think we’ll be back in this situation a few times over the next few years,” Borough said. “You take this and leave if you’re fueling for the rest of our jobs.”
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