As many may already know, the Cincinnati Bengals won a playoff game this past weekend, ending a 31-year drought. As a native of Cincinnati, I probably appreciate the end of the drought a lot more than the average reader, who may have been unaware of such a thing. Nevertheless, this past weekend ushered in a new exciting era for the Bengals franchise and the AFC North as a whole, a period that I predict will be decidedly marked by tick marks in the W column for Cincinnati building off of their recent success. That recent success is mainly due to the chemistry between sensational rookie Ja’marr Chase and his ever-poised Quarterback Joe Burrow. The dynamic duo out of Louisiana has shredded defenses and smashed records this past season, leading the Cincinnati Franchise to its’ first 10+ win season since 2015. Burrow has thrown for 34 passing touchdowns on the season and over 4,600 passing yards. Chase’s receptions alone account for 13 touchdowns and roughly one-third of those yards, setting a record for the highest yardage in a single season by any rookie in the super bowl era, a record previously held by his college teammate Justin Jefferson.
With all this recent success, it’s easy to forget the doubting and criticism that Ja’marr received earlier in 2021 when preseason struggles in the form of dropped passes and missed opportunities seemed to indicate another potentially volatile draft pick from Zac Taylor and de facto GM Mike Brown. At the time, Cincinnati fans were frustrated-though the Bengals had found their franchise QB, they were struggling to provide him with the tools he needed to elevate their offense. Going into the 2021 draft, the Bengals possessed the 5th overall pick. An offensive lineman was widely considered the obvious choice, especially in light of Burrows ACL tear in mid-November of 2020, resulting in a lack of protection. With 6’5, 325 lb. Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell headlining many high-calibre offensive linemen in that draft class; many considered an offensive lineman selection with the 5th picks a no-brainer. However, what seemed like a no-brainer for the fans was another thing entirely for Zac Taylor and the coaching staff, who selected Burrow’s college teammate Ja’marr Chase with the fifth pick. Though the pick was controversial, Chase knew he would go on to have a historic rookie season; “… I’m gonna break every record they have; I don’t know how I’m gonna do it, but it’s gonna get done.” the LSU wideout claimed in an interview.
As confident as Chase was in himself and as accurate as his claims would later turn out to be, the frustration and protest from fans were widespread. The disappointment and protests were further exacerbated by noise from the media, who claimed that Burrow was taking sacks in practice and didn’t have time in the pocket to make accurate throws in training camp: once again, the result of a lack of protection. To top it all off, Chase seemed to struggle in the preseason; he had a lot of trouble with drops early on at the NFL level. It seemed like the final bad omen in a series of bad omens predicted another disappointing season for the Cincinnati Bengals. However, when the regular 2021 season started, the doubters were proven wrong, and the rest is history up to this point. While it’s apparent that the Bengals still have some issues when it comes to the offensive line (the Bengals currently have the third-most sacks allowed in the NFL, behind only the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens), it’s even more apparent that Chase was the right pick for the long-term success of the franchise.
As the Bengals Cinderella story playoff bid continues this weekend, it’s evident that Ja’marr Chase and the Bengals have silenced the doubters thus far-and as a native of the queen city myself; I hope that Cincinnati’s offensive momentum led by Burrow’s poise and Chase’s talent will keep rolling into Tennessee this weekend, where more doubters will surely await. It’s easy to doubt they have a legitimate shot at knocking off the #1 seeded Titans, but it was also easy to doubt that Chase would break records as a rookie. It’s easy to doubt their chances, but I would rather believe and be disappointed than doubt and be left on the wrong side of history, a history that is still in the making for Chase and the Bengals.
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