Burrow, who reportedly delivered a fiery pregame speech to his teammates on the eve of Cincinnati's divisional round playoff victory, officially put a kibosh on the narrative that had followed the Bengals throughout their unexpected 2021 campaign. Burrow also ensured it would not follow them to Kansas City for Sunday's AFC Championship Game.
"I'm tired of the underdog narrative," Burrow said. "We're a really, really good team. We're here to make noise."
Make no mistake, Burrow and Bengals are good enough to upset Kansas City in Sunday's AFC Championship Game. If they do that, there's no reason to believe that Cincinnati can't defeat either the 49ers or Rams in Super Bowl LVI. It won't be easy, but as they showed in playoff wins over Las Vegas and Tennessee, the Bengals are capable of rising to the moment with their season on the line.
The reason the Bengals can win the franchise's first Vince Lombardi Trophy is simple: Cincinnati has enough talent in all three phases to win it all. For starters, the Bengals have one of the league's best young quarterbacks in Burrow, whose talent is matched by an icy cool demeanor that has already drawn comparisons to the great Joe Montana. Burrow is flanked by a receiving crops that rivals the best units in the NFL, a group that includes rookie phenom Ja'Marr Chase, fellow 1,000-yard receiver Tee Higgins, veteran Tyler Boyd and tight end C.J. Uzomah.
Cincinnati's depth at receiver has made it nearly impossible to focus on one player. Teams tried doubling Chase at midseason, only to see Higgins put up monster numbers. Focus too much on the receivers, and the Bengals can burn you with Joe Mixon, who scored Cincinnati's only touchdown last week on a nifty 16-yard run.
The Bengals offense might be the main attraction, but Cincinnati's defense takes a backseat to no one, not after they allowed just 35 total points in their first two playoff games. Just as important, the defense forced three interceptions of Ryan Tannehill last weekend that led to the Bengals' first and last points of the night. Logan Wilson's pick of Tannehill in the game's final minute ultimately delivered Cincinnati's first road playoff win in franchise history.
Despite losing defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi in the wild card round, Cincinnati's defensive line still packs a formidable punch, led by pass rushing extraordinaire Trey Hendrickson, fellow pass-rushing stalwart Sam Hubbard and run-stuffers B.J. Hill and D.J. Reader. The quartet played a big role in holding Derrick Henry to just 62 yards on 20 carries last Saturday, which included a big fourth-down stop midway through the fourth quarter.
A week prior to Wilson's pick in Nashville, fellow linebacker Germaine Pratt sealed Cincinnati's win over Las Vegas with an interception of Derek Carr in the game's final seconds. Cincinnati's opportunistic secondary then came up with two picks against Tennessee that included Mike Hilton's highly impressive interception of Tannehill with the Titans in the red zone.
Former Ohio State Buckeyes Vonn Bell and Eli Apple have resurrected their careers two hours south of Columbus. Both players have benefitted by playing with one of the league's best safeties in Jessie Bates III, who kicked off last Saturday's game with an interception of Tannehill that set up the game's first points.
The Bengals' decision to draft Chase over Penei Sewell generated a lot of national attention, but Cincinnati's selection of Evan McPherson in the fifth round didn't go over well with some facets of the fan base, either. Like the decision to select Chase, no one is currently second-guessing the pick of McPherson, not after watching him make each of his eight field goal attempts in Cincinnati's first two playoff games. His 52-yard boot last Saturday night not only sent the Bengals to the AFC Championship Game, it led to his jersey selling out ahead of Sunday's game in Arrowhead.
Like every team, the Bengals do have weaknesses. Their offensive line will surely be under attack Sunday after permitting nine sacks of Burrow last Saturday. The Bengals' pass defense finished near the bottom of the league in yards allowed. But largely, the Bengals' losses this season were the result of them beating themselves by turning the ball over. That issue has been rectified in recent weeks, as the Bengals have committed just one turnover in their last six games.
There are also intangible reasons to jump on the Bengals' bandwagon. The franchise underwent a culture change this past offseason that included altering their uniforms as well as the creation of their Ring of Honor. Zac Taylor has the pulse of the locker room, while Burrow has given his teammates the belief that something good can happen each time he steps under center.
"Every week we go out there and try to get the ball back to 9," Reader said after last week's win, via Kelsey Conway of The Cincinnati Enquirer. "That's what we believe in as a team. That's who we're trying to get the ball to. No matter what's going on with him, we'll go out there and get the ball back to him. That's our jobs. He's the toughest guy in the league. He's tough. Just gritty. Love it. I love that about him. He's a super tough guy. He doesn't complain. Goes out there does his job. I really appreciate Joe."
The Bengals' intangibles are significant, but Cincinnati's tangible talent -- as Burrow emphatically stated last Saturday night -- is the main reason why the Bengals will face the Chiefs on Sunday for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LVI. It may also lead to Cincinnati's first major professional sports title since 1990.