If it wasn't clear to everyone before this week, it's definitely clear now: The Cincinnati Bengals are for real.
Their offense is for real. Their defense is for real, and now, their place atop the AFC North is also for real. The Bengals are officially the first-place team in the division after going on the road and embarrassing the Baltimore Ravens 41-17 on Sunday.
The Ravens were the one team the Bengals weren't supposed to be able to beat. Going into Sunday, Lamar Jackson had never lost to the Bengals (5-0), he had never lost an October game to anyone (9-0) and the Bengals had only scored two offensive touchdowns against Baltimore in two years. However, that all changed in a game that might have signaled a changing of the guard in the AFC North.
The fact that the Bengals won wasn't completely surprising, the surprising part was the way they won: They blew Baltimore out of the water. The last time these two teams met, the Ravens rushed for 407 yards, but they got nowhere near that total this time around on a day where the Bengals' defense dominated.
The turnaround of Cincinnati's defense has probably been the most overlooked story of the 2021 NFL season. If you watched the defense play last year, it was absolutely atrocious. Imagine watching Derrick Henry play football against a group of elementary school kids and you'll have an idea of just how bad the Bengals' defense was last year.
One of its biggest problems in 2020 was that it couldn't rush the quarterback. The Bengals finished the 2020 season with a league-low 17 sacks. This year, they've been terrorizing opposing quarterbacks, including Jackson, who got sacked five times bringing Cincinnati's season total to 19.
For most of the game, whenever Jackson would drop back to throw, the pocket would quickly collapse, which usually led to a bad outcome for Jackson, like this first-quarter sack by Larry Ogunjobi.
Although Jackson did make a few big plays for Baltimore, he seemed overwhelmed at times by the Bengals' pass rush. Unfortunately for Jackson, he got no help from a Ravens ground game that was basically nonexistent. Although the Ravens ran for 115 yards, most of those came from Jackson (88) with Baltimore's running backs totaling just 27 yards.
The fact the Bengals' defense has turned things around makes Cincinnati a scary team. We already knew the Bengals' offense was good, and somehow, it seems to be getting better every week (It's averaging more than 30 points per game over the past four weeks).
Just seven weeks into the season, Ja'Marr Chase is doing his best to lock up the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The first-round receiver has been making plays all year and he made another huge one for the Bengals on a third-and-2 play in the third quarter.
That 82-yard score was a backbreaker. It put the Bengals up 27-17 and felt like it iced the game. Chase finished the game with 201 receiving yards, the ninth-highest total in franchise history. Chase now has 754 receiving yards through his first seven games, which is the most in NFL history for a first-year receiver.
Chase has a connection with Joe Burrow that you almost never see with a rookie receiver, even a duo who went to college together. Jaylen Waddle (Miami) and Devonta Smith (Philadelphia) are both playing with a quarterback they went to college with, but they're not putting up Chase's numbers. What Chase has done through the first half of the season is nothing short of unbelievable. Thanks to Chase, there's a good chance you'll never again hear anyone question the Bengals' decision to take him over Penei Sewell in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Burrow threw for 416 yards against the Ravens with nearly half of those going to Chase.
Seven weeks into the season, the Bengals aren't just sitting atop the AFC North, they're also sitting atop the entire AFC. That's not a typo: The Cincinnati Bengals are currently the top seed in the AFC. The Bengals have been exorcising a lot of demons this year and based on the way things are going, this is starting to feel like a team that might be able to exorcise the 31-year-old playoff demon that's been hanging over its head since January 1991.
Cincinnati 41-17 over Baltimore
|Everything the Bengals needed to do to defeat the Ravens on the road, they did. They battled through a slow start offensively to buy time before they could explode, and then they went nuclear. They used tight end C.J. Uzomah as a pressure-release valve to the tune of two touchdowns when running back Joe Mixon couldn't get going and then, eventually, Mixon got going. They needed a big game from rookie first-round pick Ja'Marr Chase and, better still, they got a career-high 201 receiving yards and a TD from him. They needed to contain Lamar Jackson both on the ground and in the air and did, leaving Baltimore with nothing more to do other than move aside atop the AFC North.|
|The only reason the Ravens escape a failing grade is because they actually put up a fight for a good chunk of this game: holding the Bengals to only three points for much of the first half and answering an awakened onslaught by Joe Burrow and Co. with some big plays of their own -- as the teams exchanged the lead time and again. But when Chase decided to take over the game, there was nothing the Ravens could do about it, and that's when their grade began swirling around the porcelain bowl. Chase reeled in more than 200 yards and the Bengals put up 41 points and more than 500 yards of total offense, while holding the Ravens to only 17 points in a humiliating loss at M&T Bank Stadium.|
Bengals-Ravens grades by Patrik Walker (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
New Orleans 13-10 over Seattle
|It's a good thing Alvin Kamara didn't miss the flight to Seattle because he was basically the entire Saints offense in this game. The running back accounted for more than 55% of his team's total offensive yardage on Monday night (179 out of 304) with 128 of that coming through the air on 10 catches. Although the Saints only scored 13 points, that ended up being enough thanks to a masterful performance from a defense that sacked Geno Smith five times while holding Seattle to just 219 total yards. It was the fewest yards the Seahawks have been held to in a home game since 2017.|
|The Seahawks' offensive game plan on Monday was to run the ball early and often, which turned out to be a disaster. The Seahawks' offensive line was no match for a Saints defense that went into this game ranked second in the NFL against the run. What that all added up to was an ugly performance that saw the Seahawks average just 3.2 yards per carry (28 carries for 90 yards). The only offensive spark for Seattle came on an 84-yard TD from Smith to DK Metcalf in the first quarter, but their air game got absolutely shut down after that. The Seahawks also got a disastrous performance from kicker Jason Myers, who missed two field goals (44, 53).|
Atlanta 30-28 over Miami
|One week after going off for 119 yards, Kyle Pitts topped himself against the Dolphins. The rookie tight end finished with 163 receiving yards and the Falcons needed every single one. He had multiple big catches in the game, but none was bigger than a 28-yarder with two minutes left to play that helped set up Younghoe Koo's 36-yard game-winning field goal. Koo headlined a Falcons special teams unit that had a huge day. Not only did Koo nail three field goals (33, 36, 36)), but Atlanta also blocked a field goal in the first half. The Falcons' offense was able to turn the blocked kick into a TD. The Falcons' defense also picked off two passes that Atlanta's offense was able to turn into 10 points. The big plays from both the defense and the special teams allowed the Falcons to steal this game from Miami. Matt Ryan also aided in the win with a performance that included 336 passing yards and two touchdowns, which overshadowed his two turnovers.|
|If the Dolphins are still thinking about trading for Deshaun Watson, Tua Tagovailoa likely didn't do much to change their mind in this game. Although Tua actually had a reasonably good day with 291 yards and four TD passes, he also threw two backbreaking interceptions that led to 10 points for the Falcons. The ugliest pick came on a first down from Atlanta's 32-yard line in the fourth quarter. Of course, this loss wasn't all Tua's fault. The Dolphins QB didn't get any help from a Miami defense that gave up 336 passing yards to Ryan.|
N.Y. Giants 25-3 over Carolina
|The Panthers seem to be taking a step back on offense every week and on Sunday, they might have finally reached rock bottom. Sam Darnold was so bad (111 yards, 1 INT) that he got benched in the fourth quarter in favor of PJ Walker. Darnold got sacked three times and appeared to be seeing ghosts every time the Giants pressured him. Defensively, the Panthers actually held their own -- limiting the Giants to under 305 total yards -- but this turned into a blowout because Carolina's offense was just that bad. Not only did Darnold take a safety, but the Panthers also failed on a fourth down from their own 19 in the second half that led to a Giants TD.|
|The Giants' defense was so good on Sunday that New York probably could have won even if every offensive player had missed the bus to the stadium. The defense scored the first points of the game for New York with a safety and that set the tone for the rest of the day. The Giants sacked Carolina's quarterbacks a total of five times and limited the Panthers to just 173 yards, marking just the second time over the past 10 years that the Giants have held an opponent under 175. Graham Gano kicked three field goals, which means the Giants' defense and special teams outscored the Panthers 11-3. The Giants' offense wasn't overly impressive, but it didn't have to be on a day where the defense shined.|
Green Bay 24-10 over Washington
|Had you told Washington fans prior to the game that their team would piled up 430 yards and 25 first downs, they would have felt pretty good about their team's chances. Most of their yards went for naught after Washington had a blocked field goal, three turnovers on downs and a red-zone interception. Washington's miscues also included a fumble on their first possession of the second half that led to a Packers touchdown that stretched their lead to 21-7. Washington's biggest miscues were on consecutive second-half possessions. Down 21-7, Washington appeared to make it a seven-point game on a Taylor Heinicke touchdown run. By the score was overturned after Heinicke began his slide short of the goal line. Heinicke was stuffed on fourth-and-goal on the ensuing play. On their next possession, Heinicke's third-down pass was dropped by Terry McLaurin in the end zone. Heinicke was unable to hit Ricky Seals-Jones on fourth-and-goal. The Football Team squandered a solid performance from defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and Montez Sweat. Allen had two first-half sacks of Rodgers, while Sweat had a sack and a forced fumble.|
|Green Bay received another MVP-caliber performance from Aaron Rodgers, who now has 16 touchdowns against just three interceptions this season. The Packers' defense, despite missing four starters, came up with several critical stops after McLaurin's game-tying touchdown. After allowing Washington to convert on their first two third-down attempts, the Packers held the Football Team to just 3 of 13 on third and fourth down for the remainder of the game. Green Bay also held Washington to 0 of 4 in the red zone. De'Vondre Campbell led the way with 13 tackles, while Rashan Gary and Kingsley Keke combined to record 3.5 of the Packers' four sacks of Heinicke. Green Bay won despite being outgained 430-304 and outrushed 195-57.|
Washington-Packers grades by Bryan DeArdo (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
New England 54-13 over N.Y. Jets
|What keeps New York out of the "F" range in my estimation is the fact that it lost starting quarterback Zach Wilson in the opening minutes of the second quarter. In his first taste of NFL action, backup quarterback Mike White largely played well under duress, completing 20 of his 32 passes for 202 yards, a touchdown, and two picks. Outside of White, however, it was a day to forget for the Jets' defense, who gave up 54 points and 551 yards of total offense. When you're giving up that level of production to the opposing offense, you're not going to win games.|
|When you drop 54 points and create multiple turnovers, it's hard to not consider this an "A+" performance by the Patriots. Mac Jones and Co. ripped off a 17-0 run against the Jets to begin the game and put points on the board on their first six possessions. New England kept that scoring total going in the second half, finishing the final two quarters on a 23-6 run to earn the first home win of the year. Jones recorded the first 300-yard passing game of his career and the backfield dominated with the trio of Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden and J.J. Taylor, who finished with 218 yards from scrimmage and five total touchdowns.|
Jets-Patriots grades by Tyler Sullivan (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Tennessee 27-3 over Kansas City
|Nothing went right for the Chiefs on Sunday. Patrick Mahomes threw for just 41 yards in the first half while the Titans jumped out to a 27-0 lead. The defense couldn't stop Tennessee's receivers, the offensive line couldn't stop the pass rush and Mahomes was inaccurate. The "worry level" for the Chiefs reached a new high on Sunday.|
|The Titans were on a short week having to play host to Mahomes and Co. with a completely depleted secondary. It looked like this could be a good spot for the Chiefs to build some momentum for themselves, but the exact opposite happened. The Titans dominated the Chiefs in every facet of the game, and jumped out to a 27-point lead at halftime. The secondary forced two Mahomes turnovers and A.J. Brown ran wide open in the secondary all afternoon long. The Titans sent shockwaves around the league with this win.|
Chiefs-Titans grades by Jordan Dajani (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Arizona 31-5 over Houston
|This might be the best defensive performance a team has ever given in a 31-5 loss. Not only did the Texans' defense give Houston an early lead with a safety in the first quarter, but it also put constant pressure on Kyler Murray. The Texans sacked him a total of four times while also forcing him to throw a pick. The problem for the Texans was that their offense was embarrassingly bad. The Texans couldn't run the ball (42 yards), they couldn't convert on third down (just 2 of 11) and they couldn't get in the end zone.|
|With a prime-timer looming on Thursday against Green Bay, this had all the makings of a trap game and although it looked like Arizona might be in trouble early, the Cards quickly rebounded to stomp down the Texans. Zach Ertz came up big in his debut game, catching three passes for 66 yards, including a 47-yard TD. The score to Ertz was one of three that Kyler Murray threw in the game. The Cards actually trailed 5-0 in this game and that was mostly because the offense seemed to be sleepwalking through the first quarter. Defensively, the Cardinals manhandled the Texans' offense, holding it to just 160 yards.|
Las Vegas 33-22 over Philadelphia
|Just another embarrassing effort from this Eagles team, a game where Philadelphia was believed to have a chance against Vegas without Darren Waller suiting up. After taking a 7-0 lead on the first possession, the Eagles gave up 30 unanswered points and allowed Derek Carr to complete passes up and down the field while Josh Jacobs ran all over them when he was in the game. There was no creativity on offense and a defensive scheme that failed to have the personnel to execute it. The worst part of the scheme on that side of the ball? The Eagles don't adjust to the talent (or lack thereof) they do have. Jalen Hurts may not be the quarterback of the future either as he struggled again, aided by an offensive line that was bullied by Vegas all afternoon. The Eagles still have the same problems they had in 2020 -- GM, quarterback, and coach -- and neither has been fixed nor improved. This is going to be a long season.|
|Give the Raiders credit for beating up a bad football team. Vegas dominated in the trenches to set the tone for the game, giving Carr a clean pocket to record 16 consecutive completions in the first half and start the game 21 of 23. The Raiders also dominated on the defensive side of the ball, with Yannick Ngakoue getting the better of Jordan Mailata and Maxx Crosby forcing Hurts out of the pocket early and often. The Raiders didn't have the look of a 4-2 team heading into today, but they provided a statement win against the Eagles -- even if Philadelphia may not be a good team. |
Eagles-Raiders grades by Jeff Kerr (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
L.A. Rams 28-19 over Detroit
|The talent gap was evident between these two teams but I appreciated that Dan Campbell essentially acknowledged that through the aggressive playcalling. His team is winless with nothing to lose so he threw the kitchen sink at the Rams with two fake punt plays and an onside kick; all three were successful. While it did not result in a win, it was encouraging to see Detroit continuing to fight for its head coach. |
|The awareness on special teams may need to improve. The Rams fell for two fake punts, including a play where the punter converted a first down by throwing to a covered receiver on the boundary. Defensively, Jalen Ramsey stepped up and made some big plays while the defensive line rattled Jared Goff with pressure. It was more of a challenge than expected, but Los Angeles did enough to keep pace with Arizona in the NFC West.|
Lions-Rams grades by Josh Edwards (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Tampa Bay 38-3 over Chicago
|Excited about Justin Fields, Bears fans? Don't be. At least right now. At least until the regime is overhauled and we can make a proper evaluation. Fields was bad Sunday, no doubt, turning the ball over five times and nearly a sixth. But only Khalil Herbert even attempted to help out. The O-line and receivers were absent, and once again we're left to wonder just how much more time Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy will get to right the ship.|
|The only reason they didn't get an "A+" is because Tom Brady was uncharacteristically off-target for a stretch of the first half, throwing a record number of consecutive incompletions. Otherwise, what's not to like? He still threw four TDs, easily carving up Chicago's secondary once the game was out of hand. He got smooth support from Leonard Fournette. And best of all, the Bucs' defense wasted no time reminding people that Fields is an unpolished rookie being asked to carry the Bears' offense, disrupting the QB early and often.|
Bears-Buccaneers grades by Cody Benjamin (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Indianapolis 30-18 over San Francisco
|It was ugly at times, but the Colts figured out a way to move the ball fairly well against the 49ers' defense. (Basically, give it to Jonathan Taylor or chuck it up and hope for pass interference.) They also forced several turnovers from the 49ers' offense. |
|San Francisco started the game incredibly well. The Niners moved right down the field for a touchdown, then forced a fumble on Indy's first drive. And it was all downhill from there. Jimmy Garoppolo is not getting it done under center, and the defense has some issues to fix. |
Colts-49ers grades by Jared Dubin (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
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