Ja’Marr Chase returned to action in the Bengals’ huge win versus the Kansas City Chiefs (Bengals.com photo).

Déjà vu, all over again

By Dr. John Huang

(CINCINNATI, Oh.) – The Sunday afternoon showdown between the Bengals and the Chiefs was billed as a game worth saving your ticket stub for. Not only was it a rematch of the AFC Championship tilt played last January in Kansas City, but it also featured arguably the two best NFL quarterbacks of their time. Not surprisingly, Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes did nothing to disappoint the 66,243 packed into a boisterous—but chilly—Paycor Stadium.

For the record, Cincinnati (8 – 4) defeated Kansas City (9 – 3) by a score of 27 – 24, solidifying the Bengals’ hopes for another scintillating postseason run and silencing the naysayers denouncing their rather pedestrian 4 – 4 start.

“We don’t care what the narrative is,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said afterwards in his postgame press conference. “There’s just too much confidence in our locker room. We have everything that we need to be successful and win every time we walk on the field… I felt very confident when we walked on the field today that our guys were ready.”

The fans were also ready as this one went back and forth. With 8:54 left in the game, Joe Burrow hit Chris Evans for an 8-yard touchdown pass and a precarious three-point lead. On the Chiefs’ subsequent drive, Harrison Butker’s 55-yard game-tying field goal attempt sailed wide right, and the Bengals were able to run out the clock.

Burrow completed 25-of-31 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns. Samaje Perine, filling in admirably for the injured Joe Mixon, ran 21 times for 106 yards.

Mahomes completed 16-of-27 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a three-yard score himself.

Uncharacteristically, the Bengals’ second-half defense gave up two touchdown drives to open the third quarter. If you remember, this is the same defense that didn’t allow a touchdown in the first seven games after halftime to begin the year. Lou Anarumo’s in-game adjustments have been magical. Today, his defense played just well enough to secure the win, the most critical play being a Germaine Pratt strip of Travis Kelce as the Chiefs were driving to take control.

Coming down the home stretch, the Bengals are now in contention for one of the top spots in the AFC playoff picture. They play three of their remaining five games at home. The team has improved tremendously in the past month—and that’s with their star receiver—Ja’Marr Chase—sidelined the past six weeks with a hip injury.

Chase eased himself back into the lineup with two short catches for 14 yards and a taunting penalty for good measure. Then at the end of the first half, he hauled in a 40-yard strike from Burrow as his official “I’m back” play. Chase smoked the Chiefs last year for an NFL rookie-record 266 yards. He marked his return to action today with seven receptions on eight targets for 97 productive yards.

“You felt the atmosphere this whole week coming into this game,” Chase said, when asked about how he felt returning to action. “It felt like a playoff game to be honest. Just the fans were crazy again. They brought me out last today, and I heard the crowd go crazy. It was just an incredible experience the whole day… We know we’re going to see those guys again in the playoffs. We just got to be ready and execute.”

Many thought Cincinnati playing the Los Angeles Rams last year in Super Bowl LVI was an absolute fluke. They predicted the team would fold this year like the proverbial cheap suit. Instead, it’s the Rams that have crashed and burned while Zac Taylor’s squad continues to turn heads and quash its critics.

“Like I told our guys, we didn’t win a division championship today,” Taylor cautioned. “We didn’t win a conference championship. We just won a game in early December. We still have a long way to go. We’ve got Cleveland coming in our house next week. We want to keep the momentum going.”

Spoken like a true coach. But Taylor is right. His team may have just beaten arguably the best team in the league for the third consecutive time, but a lot can go wrong before the end of the season. Stay tuned to see how it all plays out.

Dr. John Huang is a UK columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. He also covers the NFL and MLB for Sports View America. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs. If you enjoy his writing, be sure to check out his new book, KENTUCKY PASSION. https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669



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