In case you forgot about how the Cincinnati Bengals, you know, made it all the way to the Super Bowl this past season, NFL Films is here with an absolutely epic mini documentary titled It Is Us. The name comes from the mantra the AFC champion Bengals adopted during their run through the playoffs.
Initially, Cincinnati players were asking themselves the cliche underdog question, "Why not us?" Then Joe Burrow, as he's wont to do, decided to offer his own spin on that tired trope, correcting the narrative to, "It is us."
Even after his garbage-ass offensive line let him get sacked and pulverized into oblivion more than any other NFL QB, Joey B. insisted the 2021 Bengals had more than enough quality players to compete for a championship. Anyone outside the locker room who asserts that they truly believed that — particularly before the season when Burrow was coming off a major knee injury — is lying to you. That's one of many ways Joe Burrow is just different. And that dude. Whatever you wanna say.
Anyway, I wanted to go through some highlights of yet another amazing feature from NFL Films to commemorate all that this team accomplished before we get into training camp and the ramp-up for the 2022 campaign.
Week 4 — TNF comeback vs. Jaguars
An early 14-0 deficit had the makings of an embarrassing loss written all over it. Letting Urban Meyer get his first win as Jacksonville head coach? What the fuck was going on here? A short week, bad opponent and playing at home were all contributing to a collective letdown in prime time on Thursday Night Football.
"Time for me to take over," Burrow said to himself on the sideline. And take over he did, throwing for 348 yards and two scores in a 24-21 victory.
Amazing what happens when you give this man time to throw.
The best part was Burrow beating an all-out blitz to set up Evan McPherson's game-winning field goal. It's a straight-up bone-crushing hit from a free rusher. Joe Brr pops right back up, celebrates with his teammates, and yells, "You can't fucking zero me! What the fuck you talkin' about!?"
Week 7 — The Ravens fuck around and find out
You gotta love the audacity of ex-Baltimore defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. Doesn't matter who he's playing against. He's coming after you. Problem is, you might want to make some adjustments when you're squaring off against Joe Burrow, who lit up the Ravens' hapless secondary for 416 yards in a 41-17 rout in Baltimore.
On the sidelines, Burrow said to Tee Higgins, "If we win this division, we can win it all." That turned out to be remarkably prescient — even though it preceded a shocking loss to the Jets and a blowout at the hands of the Browns in the following two weeks.
Funny thing is, 416 wasn't even the most yards Burrow would throw for on the Ravens for the season. He wound up with 525 in Week 16. LOL. As an added bonus I'll feature this soundbite (Not in the NFL Films feature) about how Martindale tried to dismiss Burrow's skill set leading into their second meeting of 2021:
Week 17 — The Ja'Marr Chase Game
On the heels of Burrow's franchise-record performance against the Ravens, we got Ja'Marr Chase's best outing to date. The rookie phenom had several breakout performances before this one. However, Burrow's favorite target from LSU saved his best performance for the most critical matchup of the regular season against the reigning AFC champion Chiefs.
Chase went for a cool 266 yards and three touchdowns to help Cincinnati clinch the AFC North in a 34-31 triumph. That prompted the following reaction from former Chiefs defensive back and fellow LSU product Tyrann Mathieu:
I love how people are just assuming the rest of the NFL will have figured the Bengals' offense out. As if they're not going to adjust their scheme whatsoever with a wildly upgraded offensive line. Plus, don't folks realize Ja'Marr Chase was a fucking rookie last year? Guy has at least another gear to find. That's a scary prospect for anyone attempting to guard him.
AFC Divisional Round vs. Titans — "I'm putting it right where I want to every time. Bad news for them."
That was Burrow's quote after pregame warmups. He proceeded to complete 75.7% of his passes for 348 yards and set up McPherson's winning kick with a clutch completion to Chase on the right sideline. Did I mention Joe got sacked NINE TIMES?
Maybe my favorite soundbite came from o-line coach Frank Pollack amid the Titans' onslaught on Burrow. Pollack screamed at Isaiah Prince, "You don’t stop til the motherfucker is buried in the grass!!"
Yeah, didn't really help. Also didn't matter. Burrow got the Bengals through to the AFC Championship Game and a rematch with Kansas City.
AFC Championship Game — A comeback for the ages
I really hope the Bengals sign Jessie Bates to a multi-year contract extension. Not like you're going to be all doom and gloom when shit hits the fan if you're one of the team leaders, yet it was still impressive to hear what Bates said when Cincinnati trailed 21-3 at Arrowhead Stadium.
"We good, bro," Bates insisted. "D-line gonna keep him in the pocket, we cannot have explosives. That’s it."
The "him" was Patrick Mahomes…and between the pressure the Bengals generated up front and their stellar play on the back end, they forced Mahomes into multiple mistakes to help spark an epic rally and a 27-24 AFC-clinching win in overtime.
Bates' play to deflect a deep pass away from Tyreek Hill and into the arms of Vonn Bell during the Chiefs' only OT possession was among the most impressive plays you'll ever see from a defensive back.
While many expect the Bengals to take steps back because they lost Super Bowl LVI 23-20 to the Rams, I think I'll just let the last two sentences of the latest NFL Films masterwork speak for itself.
"If you think you’ve seen the last of them, think again. If you’re wondering who to look out for in 2022, it is the Cincinnati Bengals."