Cincinnati is experiencing a bit of a flashback right now. After their 17-13 nail-biter win against the Seattle Seahawks, the Bengals are easing their way back into the driver’s seat of destiny, locking up a 3-3 record through six games after an 0-2 start where it looked like their season was going to fall by the wayside.
This mirrors where the Bengals were last year when they started 0-2, clawed back to 3-3, and ripped off several wins in the middle of the season before ending 12-4 with an AFC Championship game berth. This Bengals team is still producing differently than last year, when Joe Burrow was playing a bit better than he has up to this point this year, but they’ve faced a similar challenge to start this season.
One thing is unequivocally true about this Bengals’ roster — they’re talented enough to dig themselves out of a rut, whether it’s game-to-game or staving off a talented team in-game like they did against the Seahawks. The Bengals have played different types of games this year that have contributed to their wins. They outlasted the Rams in a low-scoring affair. Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase bounced back for a high-scoring affair against the Cardinals. The defense stepped up to put away the Seahawks despite Geno Smith’s best efforts. It’s a good sign for this team that they can get to the finish line with incomplete performances, and it’s allowed them to stay afloat in an AFC North that has been as tough as advertised.
The Bengals are currently fourth in the division, but that number doesn’t mean anything just yet. The Browns and Steelers are both sitting at 3-2 having already experienced their bye week and the Ravens are 4-2 following their win against the Titans. The division is firmly in play for the Bengals because the growth and experiences from the last few years has led them to a point where they can bounce back from 0-2 starts in back-to-back seasons. They enter their bye week coming off the win against the Seahawks, which is important because they still have a few things to tweak before a huge matchup against the 49ers in Week 8.
Burrow has definitely gotten better since the start of the season, but the Seahawks game was a step back for him, even with the win. The Bengals’ offense hasn’t been able to generate much downfield outside of their win over the Cardinals. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Burrow averaged 2.48 seconds to throw against the Seahawks and his passes traveled an average of 5.2 yards down the field — a startling return to the first four games of the season when he was very clearly nursing an injured calf.
As the Bengals showed this week against a good Seahawks team, they can overcome playing a diminished version of their own offense because they’ve built up both sides of the ball. Lou Anarumo is still one of the best and most creative defensive coordinators in the league, and he has the Bengals’ defense playing well enough to keep their beleaguered offense in games. By most measures, the Bengals’ defense has been about average this year, but they have enough defensive playmakers to slow things down and be of use to the offense.
All of this to say — the Bengals, once again, have ended up in a manageable situation after losing the first two games of the season. As it’s been widely noted, that’s not a scenario from which most teams rebound. Even in the brief 17-game schedule world, the only team to make the playoffs after starting 0-2 was last year’s Bengals. Getting into that hole is not where the team wants to be when they have Super Bowl aspirations, but part of the reason why they have reasonable Super Bowl aspirations is because they’ve built a Super Bowl-caliber roster.
A bye week at 3-3. Another week for Burrow to get healthy. And just one game behind first place in the AFC North. All things considered, it could be a lot worse for the Bengals.
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