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Taking a deeper look at Bengals’ triumphant journey to Super Bowl LVI

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 30: Head coach Zac Taylor and quarterback Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals hold the Lamar Hunt Trophy after the Bengals defeated the Kansas City Chiefs to win the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 30, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 30: Head coach Zac Taylor and quarterback Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals hold the Lamar Hunt Trophy after the Bengals defeated the Kansas City Chiefs to win the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 30, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images) /
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The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the defending AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs after an Evan McPherson game-winning field goal. The Bengals surmounted an 18 point deficit holding the Chiefs to only three second-half points and coming up with two crucial interceptions from B.J. Hill and Vonn Bell to punch their ticket to Super Bowl LVI.

When the season started, not many people outside of Cincinnati fans were optimistic about the Bengals’ odds to compete for the AFC North, let alone the Super Bowl.

Taking Ja’Marr Chase as the No. 5 overall pick over an offensive lineman (Penei Sewell) drew criticism. It looked like an even worse pick after Chase had preseason “drop” issues”. People mocked the Bengals more and more, but after Week 1, those critics were nowhere to be found.

Chase set the scene this season, paving the way for a Pro Bowl bid and the best odds to win Offensive Rookie of the Year after putting up 81 catches, 1,455 yards, and 13 touchdowns this year. He played a vital role in the entire team’s success at only 21 years of age this year.

Now, Joe Burrow, the fantastic Joey Franchise, had an incredible season.

In Week 11 of last year, Burrow tore his ACL against the Washington Football Team, which led the Bengals to finish 4-11-1. After debatably the worst possible scenario for a rookie season, what ended up happening in year two was astonishing.

Burrow ended up with 4,611 passing yards, 34 passing touchdowns, and a 108.3 QBR. He led the Bengals to their first playoff win over 30 years with a 26-19 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders.

Joe Mixon’s story shouldn’t go unnoticed either.

A guy who only appeared in six games last season after suffering a season-ending ankle injury finished top three in rushing with 1,205 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. He averaged 75.3 yards per game, and having that production daily is impressive and a key reason for the offense’s success.

You would never know with the execution that head coach Zac Taylor has gotten out of these guys, how young this team really is. They ended the season as the least penalized team in the entire league, and that says something about the discipline and coaching of this roster.

After two years of struggle and many losses, everyone has bought into what coach Taylor was preaching. Taylor posted a 5-26-1 record through his first two seasons, which was the worst by any coach in the franchise’s history.

But that didn’t push Mike Brown and Duke Tobin to want to make a change; they trusted the process, put their trust in Zac Taylor, invested their money into free agency, and brought in tough players with a winning mentality. It led to one of the most remarkable turnarounds in NFL history.

The key additions to a much-improved Bengals’ defense

As good as the offense has been this year, the defense has taken a giant leap after multiple seasons as one of the worst in the league.

The most significant addition was Trey Hendrickson, who some thought was overpaid with his four-year $60 million deal but quickly showed he was well worth every penny. In his first season with Cincinnati, Hendrickson was a Pro Bowler and led the team with 14.0 sacks, which also broke his career-high (previously 13.5 with Saints)

Although, besides Hendrickson, the Cincinnati Bengals additions have been incredible.

Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie has been one of the most reliable and consistent corners in the league this year, covering the best opposing receiver more often than not. The Eli Apple addition shouldn’t go unnoticed either.

Apple had a shaky start but has been the usual starting number two cornerback this season for the Bengals and made one of the biggest plays of the season, tipping a Tannehill pass late in the fourth quarter that led to a Logan Wilson interception. That later ended up being a game-winning Evan McPherson field goal attempt from 52 yards out to send Cincinnati to the AFC Championship.

In the offseason, they traded Billy Price to the Giants in exchange for B.J Hill, and that trade couldn’t have worked out better as Hill has been a crucial piece to the rotation and success of the front seven. He even had a second-half interception in the team’s comeback against the Chiefs. In addition, Hill racked up 50 tackles and 5.5 sacks this season.

Larry Ogunjobi was signed on a one-year prove-it deal and has been one of the best interior linemen in the AFC North, lining up alongside D.J. Reader, Hendrickson, and Hubbard. Ogunjobi had 7.0 sacks this year but unfortunately got hurt against the Raiders, ending his season.

The Bengals hold the fourth-most cap space this offseason, so seeing what they can do to re-sign Ogunjobi along with the money they are sure to spend on the offensive line will be interesting. The Bengals’ defense has seven takeaways in the three playoff games they won, which has been instrumental in all these late-game victories.

What Cincinnati has accomplished after such adversity that was thrown their way will be remembered forever by Bengals fans. However, if they can find a way to defeat the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl, it will be retained by the entire NFL community forever. It will go down in history.

One of the youngest teams in the NFL with only five players over the age of 30 to accomplish the Cincinnati Bengals’ first-ever Super Bowl win in franchise history would be remarkable.

This journey has been one that Bengals fans shouldn’t take for granted, and hopefully, if all goes according to plan, this is only the beginning of what’s to come for the organization.

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