“I’m tired of the underdog narrative. We’re a really, really good team. We’re here to make noise and teams are going to have to pay attention to us. We’re, like I said, a really good team with really good players and coaches and we’re coming for it all.” Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow told the press Saturday afternoon after the Bengals’ 19-16 win against #1 seeded Tennessee. The poised Bengals quarterback threw for 348 yards on 28 completions against the Titans defense this past weekend in the AFC semifinals, even after being sacked 9 times. Though the offensive line struggled, 2nd-year wide receiver Tee Higgins and rookie Ja”Marr Chase combined for 12 for over 200 yards receiving. Aside from the offensive success, the Bengals dominated the field defensively, intercepting Ryan Tannehill 3 times, limiting Derrick Henry to just 62 yards on 20 carries, and holding the Titans to 1 for 9 on third and fourth down possessions. On most accounts, it was an impressive performance, capped off by talented rookie kicker McPherson’s walk-off 52-yarder to win the game, allegedly exclaiming “Well, looks like we’re going to the AFC championship game!” as he walked out to punch his team’s ticket to Kansas City.
That kind of attitude demonstrated by Mcpherson has encapsulated the energy of the 2021 Bengals team: confidence mixed with a little bit of cockiness. No one on this team seems to doubt themselves, even when the odds are against them, even when the momentum isn’t favorable. Whatever happens Sunday, this team has made history. I could drone on and on about all of the records broken by this team but it’s nothing that hasn’t already been said, it’s nothing that isn’t already recognized or understood. It’s a point that’s already been hammered home by other journalists’ time and time again. Rather than citing all of the broken records that Cincinnati has left in their wake, I would argue to look at the energy of the team, like the aforementioned confident attitude of Mcpherson. The demeanor and energy of the team speak volumes more than any broken record or historic milestone ever could. Zac Taylor’s team has a swagger to them as they walk into Arrowhead this weekend, and it’s a swagger that hasn’t been seen in Cincinnati since 1990.
According to Vegas odds, the Bengals are 7.5-point underdogs heading into Arrowhead this weekend. However, the Bengals were also set as -4.5-points in the semifinals in Nashville last week, a game that they obviously went on to win. What’s more, is Cincinnati opening as underdogs against the Chiefs isn’t a new story this season. In week 17 they were projected as 3.5-point home underdogs during their matchup against the same Kansas City team, who they went on to beat 34-31 in an offensive shootout: where Burrow threw for almost 450 yards and 4 TDs. As Arrowhead stadium looms and super bowl Sunday draws closer, I’m still tempted to call the Bengals’ impressive season an underdog story; a series of unlikely successes against superior opponents. However, as this story continues to be written this week, I can’t help but agree with Joe: this isn’t an underdog narrative anymore in Cincinnati. Granted, there are still a lot of issues that need to be fixed: the offensive line (with the exception of Guard Quenton Spain) isn’t giving Burrow the protection he needs, defensive backs still get burnt in coverage uncomfortably often, and the otherwise explosive offense tends to sputter in the red zone. However, those are all fixable issues. When I look at this Bengals unit, I can’t help but feel that a Lombardi trophy is coming to Cincinnati sooner rather than later. As we wait for Sunday night, I believe that the story of Burrow and this young Cincinnati team isn’t just an underdog story anymore, but an impressive story in its own right-a story that doesn’t come to an end in Kansas City this weekend, win or lose.