The Columbus Dispatch
Worst to first: Bengals clinch AFC North title
Back in Week 12, after the Cincinnati Bengals won by 31 points, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor ended his Sunday night by watching football in his backyard with the rest of his family.
As the Taylor family shared a pepperoni pizza and started a fire, Zac's wife, Sarah, asked him why he wasn't more excited. In what could have been a celebration, Zac was calmer than she expected following the team's biggest win of the year at that point.
Zac told Sarah that he didn't become an NFL coach to celebrate a November win. He told her that once he wins something of real significance, he'll show a lot more excitement.
On Sunday, the Bengals had the franchise-changing moment that Taylor had been waiting for. The Bengals
beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 34-31, to clinch a playoff berth, and the win carries even more meaning than that.
It happened because Taylor made the most aggressive and most important decision of his coaching career. With less than a minute remaining, the Bengals had 4th and 1 from the 1-yard line. Taylor decided to go for it.
The play ended with offsetting penalties. The Bengals had another 4th and 1 from the 1-yard line, and Taylor decided to go for it again. Chiefs defensive back L’jarius Sneed committed a hands to the face penalty, which gave the Bengals an automatic first down.
As the clock ran out, rookie kicker Evan Mcpherson made the game-winning 20-yard field goal.
The Bengals are AFC North champions and Super Bowl contenders. It only took three years for Taylor to reach that point, and it only took quarterback Joe Burrow two seasons to become the type of quarterback who’s good enough to win a Super Bowl.
The Bengals used 2021 free agency to remake a defense that got the stops that mattered against the most explosive offense in the NFL. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has led the Chiefs to consecutive AFC championships, but the Bengals were the better team on Sunday.
This is the same Bengals organization that won six combined games in 2019 and 2020. Now, the Bengals have proved they can beat anyone, and they’ve proved that they have as good of a shot as any team to win the AFC this season.
No matter how long Burrow plays for the Bengals, there will never be another season like this one. There will never be another year where a team that was considered too young to compete took the AFC by storm and made one of the most surprising runs to the playoffs in franchise history.