While there was optimism about the team’s general directory this season, I don’t recall that there were a ton of pundits predicting that the Cincinnati Bengals would be topping the AFC North this year, let alone advancing to the conference finals for just the third time in the franchise’s history. I think most were just acknowledging that they wouldn’t finish last in the division again.
That was never their own outlook, however, in that locker room, even after compiling just six wins over the previous two years. Especially buoyed by the continued development of second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, and with the addition of his favorite target in college, Ja’Marr Chase, the Bengals are not who we thought they were—they are who we thought they would be.
A week after basically telling fans to ‘get used to this’ after securing the franchise’s first postseason victory in more than three decades, Burrow continued to try to blow up the narratives surrounding the Bengals and shift the conversation, as though they are a team playing with house money.
“I’m tired of the underdog narrative”, he told reporters after the game when he was asked if this season felt like a Cinderella story. “We’re a really, really good team. We’re here to make noise, and teams are going to have to pay attention to us. Like I said, we’re a really good team with really good players and coaches, and we’re coming for it all”.
Reaction from Steelers fans last week were pretty skewed toward believing Burrow said something he shouldn’t have said. I didn’t really agree last week, and I wouldn’t agree this week, either. For me, you want your quarterback to talk like this. You want him to have the highest expectations and to set that tone for the rest of the team.
Especially when he was basically asked if he felt like they achieved more this year than they should have, or as if it’s hard to even believe that they have had this much success this early into his career. When you draft a guy like Burrow, that flips all expectations on its head right away.
And while he is supremely confident in his team, he’s also not so foolish as to think it’s easy or routine to make it this far. Asked if he felt these wins were beginning to feel normal, he said, “No, it’s not normal. This one was one really, really hard, intense game. Apparently, this is what playoff football this deep into January is like. It was really, really hard”.
Yesterday’s game was, believe it or not, the Bengals’ first road playoff victory in franchise history. Granted, they had only previously won six playoff games, going 6-14 over their history. They were previously 0-7 as the road team, and 0-9 if you include neutral sites in their two Super Bowl defeats.