In just a few days, the Cincinnati Bengals will be playing in the Super Bowl, having until recently not won a postseason game in more than 30 years. They have had five consecutive losing seasons prior to 2021, during which they finished 10-7 and qualified as the lowest-seeded division-winner in the AFC. They promptly beat the Las Vegas Raiders, the Tennessee Titans, and the Kansas City Chiefs en route to ‘hosting’ the Los Angeles Rams in the championship game.
While the Rams are the betting favorites in Las Vegas, however, the Bengals refuse to acknowledge the conversation nor refer to themselves as underdogs. Head coach Zac Taylor, who still owns an overall overwhelmingly losing record as a head coach, recently talked about his talks with his team in preparation for Sunday.
“My message was simple: ‘We are here for a reason. This is not a fluke. We are not underdogs. This is just the last test of the season. We belong here’”, he said on ESPN, as transcribed by Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk. “I have a mature disciplined team. I know they will do the right thing. I told them, ‘Whatever you do, remember you are here for one mission, the game’”.
This has been a unified and concerted effort within the organization, helmed by Taylor and quarterback Joe Burrow, who asked teammates such as tight end C.J. Uzomah early in their postseason run to stop wearing Bengals-themed shirts with the message, ‘Why Not Us?’
The messaging is clear: We are just as entitled to and capable of winning the title as any other team out there. In this case, there is some literal truth, as the Rams and the Bengals are both the fourth-seeded teams in their respective conferences—in fact, it’s the lowest-seeded Super Bowl in history. Los Angeles did go 12-5 during the regular season.
Personally, I like it, and I would be happy to hear that if I were a Bengals fan. I don’t want my team coming into the game with the attitude that they are the lesser opponent and that they have to overcome the odds to win. No, they simply have to do their jobs at the highest level, as is the case week in and week out.
Cincinnati went 6-25-1 during the 2019-2020 seasons under Taylor when he first took over as head coach following the firing of Marvin Lewis after a very long tenure on the job. He was hired thanks to his work under Sean McVay, who remains head coach of the Rams, as quarterbacks coach.
That was after the Rams made a Super Bowl run, only to fall to the New England Patriots. Now they have Matthew Stafford at quarterback, who has won his first playoff games in his 13th season as a former first overall pick. Now Taylor has his own first-overall pick in Burrow trying to thwart Stafford’s much-awaited shot at a championship in just year two.