‘This is the kind of game that great teams win’: Bengals thinking playoffs after victory vs. Titans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Like the rest of his teammates, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow

was closely monitoring the ending of the Baltimore RavensJacksonville Jaguars game on Sunday. When the Jaguars scored the game-winning two-point conversion, the room erupted with cheers as the result moved the Bengals into a tie with Baltimore for first place in the AFC North.

Following Cincinnati’s 20-16 win against the Tennessee Titans, the Bengals have been fixated on getting back into the postseason, which was aided by the gritty win in Tennessee on Sunday.

“This is the kind of game that great teams win,” Burrow said.

The game in Nashville was a rematch of the two teams’ AFC divisional round playoff games last season, when the Bengals knocked off the top-seeded Titans on their way to eventually winning the conference championship. That postseason run established how Cincinnati will be judged for the foreseeable future — being among the favorites to make a Super Bowl run in the AFC.

Once again, the Bengals were matched up against a Titans team that featured Derrick Henry, one of the league’s best running backs, and a Tennessee defense that is among the best in stopping the run.

The Bengals held Henry to 38 yards on 19 carries. On the other side of the ball, Cincinnati rushed for 108 yards despite starting running back Joe Mixon missing the game with a concussion.

“One thing this team took to heart was how physical this game was going to be,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said after the game. “And that’s a credit to Tennessee because that’s how they play. But our guys answered the bell today.”

Like last year’s playoff win in Nashville, Sunday’s game wasn’t a pretty one for Cincinnati. Half of its first eight offensive drives were three-and-outs. But the Bengals were able to be productive when it mattered.

With the game tied at 13 entering the fourth quarter, Burrow leaned on wide receivers Trenton Irwin and Tee Higgins for some key catches. Irwin had a 16-yard completion down the right sideline that extended a drive that ended with a 27-yard touchdown that proved to be the game-winning score.

Against tough opponents, aesthetics are secondary to winning.

“This is the NFL,” Burrow said. “You’re playing really, really good teams on the opposing end. It’s not always going to be pretty all the time. You’ve gotta find ways to win and we’re starting to do that.”

Cincinnati (7-4) won its third straight game, all without star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who was withheld out of precaution as he continues to recover from a hip injury. After the game, Taylor sounded optimistic about Chase’s chances to play next weekend against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Sunday’s game against the Titans was a barometer for the Bengals’ postseason aspirations in 2022. Entering Week 11, five of Cincinnati’s final seven opponents were ranked ahead of the team in the conference standings, including the Titans (7-4), the Chiefs, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Ravens.

Cincinnati’s daunting finish to the regular season is one of the reasons why Taylor avoided looking too far into the future.

“We got another big one next week [against Kansas City],” Taylor said. “We’re probably going to continue to say that from now on. Whatever.”

Burrow said the tough slate for the final six games of the regular season will be a chance for Cincinnati to show its “championship mettle.” When Bengals defensive tackle DJ Reader spoke to teammates the day before beating Tennessee, he talked about being “battle-tested as a family” and relishing the chances ahead of them.

Between Sunday’s win and Baltimore’s loss, the Bengals are back on even footing in the race for the AFC North title. And the path to a second straight division title will feature teams looking to dethrone Cincinnati as AFC champions.

“If you don’t see joy in that type of opportunity,” Reader said, “people pray for those type of [opportunities].

“Everything we want is in front of us. We just gotta go f—ing get it.”

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