Kickoff: 1 p.m. Eastern.
Television: The game will air on FOX-TV. In the Bengals’ home region, it will be carried by WXIX-TV (Ch. 19) in Cincinnati, WGRT-TV (Ch. 45) in Dayton, WDKY-TV (Ch. 56) in Lexington, and WTTE-TV (Ch. 28) in Columbus. Broadcasters are Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Jonathan Vilma (analyst) and Lindsay Czarniak (reporter).
Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530; all sports) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).
Setting the scene: The Bengals this Sunday close out their 2021 regular season on the road against the division-rival Cleveland Browns. Cincinnati is coming off of a thrilling 34-31 win over Kansas City last Sunday that clinched the Bengals’ first AFC North title since 2015, and also snapped an eight-game winning streak by the two-time defending AFC Champion Chiefs.
After the game, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor fought back tears at his news conference.
“Really proud,” he said. “You guys (the media) have sat in here and seen what we’ve been through.
“You don’t want a playoff berth or a division championship to be handed to you — that’s something you go take yourself. So we wanted to go do it with a victory. And our guys did that in unbelievable fashion today. It took everybody — some guys just got here, and some guys have been here two, three, five, 10 years. There’s a lot of earned emotion in that locker room.”
But while the ultimate result of last Sunday’s game was a Bengals win, Cincinnati’s outlook was far from rosy early in the contest. The Chiefs jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, thanks to TD drives of 72 and 63 yards, and looked to be on their way to a runaway win.
Cincinnati responded, though, with a 72-yard TD pass from QB Joe Burrow to rookie WR Ja’Marr Chase, who weaved through and eventually outran numerous Chiefs defenders on his way to the end zone. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats service, which tracks players’ speed using GPS technology, Chase reached a top speed of 21.75 MPH during his run, good for the fastest by a Bengals ball-carrier this season.
“It was ‘cloud’ (coverage) to the field, and Ja’Marr had the out route,” Burrow said. “He felt the cloud corner out there who was going to be able to intercept the ball, so he settled right in the zone. I was able to stop him with the ball, and he did the rest.”
An 18-yard Burrow-to-Chase connection and a 46-yard Evan McPherson FG helped Cincinnati remain within shouting distance in the second quarter, but an impressive showing by Kansas City’s offense sent the Bengals to the locker room with a 28-17 halftime deficit.
“They present a lot of challenges that you don’t usually face and can’t replicate in practice and don’t face with any other teams,” said DE Sam Hubbard. “But we all just settled in at halftime and wanted to come out in the second half and do our thing.”
The Bengals wasted little time getting on the scoreboard after the break, as Burrow and Chase connected on their third TD of the game — a 69-yarder — on just the third play of the half.
“He knows exactly where the ball is going to be, depending on the look the corner is presenting,” Burrow said. “He made a bunch of great plays today. If you’re one-on-one with Ja’Marr, more power to you and good luck.”
Chase racked up 266 receiving yards on the day — a Bengals record, the most-ever by a rookie, and the most in the NFL this season. Chase now has two of the NFL’s three highest receiving yardage outputs in 2021, and three of the four highest ever by a Bengals rookie (see “Three big days for “Uno” on page 8). He is the first rookie and the fifth player ever with multiple 200-yard receiving games in a single season (see “The rundown on Chase” on page 7).
“Everything is overwhelming right now,” Chase said. “I’m excited, but overwhelmed.
“It’s all about being consistent with your quarterback and making sure you have the right timing. It’s on me to get open, get separation and catch the ball.”
Added Burrow: “If you’re going to play him one-on-one, a lot of times it’s going to be a long day for you. He’s a great player, and he’s going to be a great player for a long time. Great person, too. He doesn’t care if he gets 260 yards and three touchdowns, or if he gets zero yards and everyone else makes all the yards. Great guy to have on your team.”
The unsung hero of the day, though, was Cincinnati’s defense, which allowed just three points in the second half after surrendering four consecutive TD drives in the first half.
“We weathered the storm,” Taylor said. “We didn’t think this was going to be easy. You probably don’t think you’re going to shut out the Chiefs — they’re going to make plays, and they’ve got some of the premier guys at their positions.
“With a lot of the plays they made in the first half, (Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes) created some time and made the plays downfield. That was kind of our message at halftime — ‘They’ve made some great plays but we’ve been in pretty good position, so our time’s going to come.’ We just had to calm down, keep putting the pressure on them on offense by scoring points, and then let our defense kind of get settled down.”
The defense’s second-half performance was capped by a third-down stop in the fourth quarter that held the Chiefs to a FG with 6:01 remaining. But Kansas City’s offense never saw the ball again, thanks to an ensuing 15-play, 74-yard drive by Cincinnati that featured a 30-yard completion to convert a third-and-27 with 3:19 to play.
Cincinnati’s rookie K Evan McPherson eventually capped the drive with his third “walk-off” FG — a 20-yarder —- of the year as time expired, and the Bengals were officially AFC North champions.
“It feels amazing,” said Hubbard, a Cincinnati native. “I was just sitting in the locker room with guys like Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd who have been here a long time with me. It means a lot to us, and it’s a special feeling. It signifies what we’ve been talking about for awhile, and how things are changing.”
Of note late in the game was the absence of Burrow for a final kneel-down and spike to stop the clock. Burrow, who was seen limping to the sideline in the game’s final moments, said he re-aggravated an injury to his right knee from earlier this season. It should be noted, though, that his left knee was the one that was injured and surgically repaired late last season.
Asked after the game how his right knee felt, Burrow didn’t seem worried. “Good enough. I would have come back in (for an overtime period). I just knew we were going to kneel it in the pocket, so I figured to take myself out of the risk and let Brandon (QB Brandon Allen) go in there and do that.”
Burrow won AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his Week 16 performance against Baltimore, which included a team-record 525 passing yards and four TDs. He followed that with 446 yards against the Chiefs — fourth-most in team history — giving him the second-highest two-week passing yardage total (971) in NFL history (Dak Prescott, 974 in 2020).
Whether or not Burrow will play this Sunday remains unclear. As it stands now, Cincinnati is the No. 3 seed in the AFC, however there is a possible scenario — albeit somewhat unlikely — in which Cincinnati could obtain the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. The Browns have been mathematically eliminated from the playoff race.
On Monday, Taylor declined to say whether or not Burrow or other starters would play on Sunday at Cleveland.
“I don’t know if I’d be able to answer that about any player at this point,” Taylor said. “Those are things we’ll have to talk through. It’s still early in the week, so we haven’t had those conversations yet. But certainly if guys have some bumps and bruises, it’s better off making sure that we get healthy.”
Cleveland enters Sunday’s matchup 7-9, after losing 26-14 at Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football.
The series: The Bengals lead 51-45 in the “Battle of Ohio” series, but the Browns have won six of the last seven. Home field has been a factor over the series, as the Bengals lead 31-18 at home, but trail 20-27 as the road club.
Cincinnati has played more games against Cleveland (96) than any foe except Pittsburgh. The Bengals have 103 all-time games against the Steelers (regular season).
The Browns swept Cincinnati in 2020, and they won the first meeting this season, 41-16 on Nov. 7 at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals’ last win over the Browns was the second meeting of 2019 at Cincinnati. That was the Bengals’ only win in the past four seasons.
More series notes:
- When Cleveland swept Cincinnati in 2018, it was the Browns’ first season sweep over the Bengals since 2002.
- Cleveland’s win in Game 11 of 2018 snapped a seven-game Bengals winning streak against the Browns. That streak, the Bengals’ longest in the series, began with the second meeting of 2014. The Bengals’ previous longest streak had been a five-game run from Game 2 of 2004 through Game 2 of ’06.
- The Browns’ longest win streak over Cincinnati also has been seven games, extending from Game 2 of the 1992 season through Game 2 of ’95.
- Since the Browns’ rebirth in 1999, the Bengals lead 27-18, including 15-8 as the home team and 12-10 as the visiting team.
Single-season records already broken: Here’s a look at the single-season Bengals records that have already fallen this season.
- QB Joe Burrow has passed for 4611 yards, the most in team history. Andy Dalton’s 4293 (set in 2013) are now second.
- Burrow has 34 passing TDs, the most in team history. Dalton’s 33 (set in 2013) are now second.
- Burrow has six 300-yard passing games, the most in team history. The previous team record of five was shared by Burrow (2020), Carson Palmer (’07) and Dalton (’13).
- WR Ja’Marr Chase has 13 receiving TDs this season, the most by a rookie in team history. WR Isaac Curtis (nine) had the previous rookie record.
- Chase has 79 receptions this season, most-ever by a Bengals rookie. Cris Collinsworth (1981) and Tee Higgins (2020) are now in second, with 67.
- Chase has 1429 receiving yards, most-ever by a Bengals rookie. A.J. Green’s 1057 receiving yards (set in 2011) are now second.
- Chase has five 100-yard receiving games this season, the most-ever by a Bengals rookie. Green’s four (set in 2011) are now second.
- K Evan McPherson has made nine FGs of 50 or more yards, the most in team history. Horst Muhlmann (four in 1970) now has the second-most.
Bengals-Browns connections: Browns offensive line coach Bill Callahan is the father of Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan. Bill Callahan was also head coach at the University of Nebraska when Bengals head coach Zac Taylor played quarterback there … Bengals DT Larry Ogunjobi originally was a third-round draft pick of the Browns in 2017, and was with Cleveland through the ’20 season … Bengals DE Wyatt Ray originally was a college free agent signee of the Browns in 2019 … Browns CB Troy Hill originally was a college free agent signee of the Bengals in 2015, and was on Cincinnati’s practice squad during the ’15 season … Browns T James Hudson III played at the University of Cincinnati and is from Toledo, Ohio (Central Catholic High School) … Bengals QB Joe Burrow is from Athens, Ohio (Athens High School), and also played at Ohio State University from 2015-17 … Browns T Jedrick Wills is from Lexington, Ky. (Lafayette High School) … Browns DE Ifeadi Odenigbo is from Centerville, Ohio (Centerville High School) … Browns RB Kareem Hunt played at the University of Toledo … Bengals CB Eli Apple, S Vonn Bell, DE Sam Hubbard, and OT Isaiah Prince also played at Ohio State University, as did Browns CB Denzel Ward and DT Tommy Togiai … Bengals LB Markus Bailey is from Columbus, Ohio (Hilliard Davidson High School) … Bengals LB Joe Bachie (Reserve/Injured) is from Brook Park, Ohio (Berea High School) … Bengals TE Mason Schreck (practice squad) is from Medina, Ohio (Medina High School) … Browns T Elijah Nkansah (practice squad) played at the University of Toledo … Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt was on the Bengals’ coaching staff rom 2018-19 … Bengals defensive quality control coach Louie Cioffi was on the Browns’ coaching staff in 2013 and ’16 … Bengals defensive quality control coach Jordan Kovacs is from Curtice, Ohio (Clay High School) … Browns strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus coached at the University of Louisville from 1998-99 … Bengals senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner coached at Ohio State University from 1975-76.
Bengals go ‘worst to first’: Cincinnati’s 2021 AFC North division title is the fifth instance in Bengals history that the team won a division title after finishing last in their division the previous season. The 2021 team now joins the 1970, ’81, ’88 and ’90 Bengals as division champions who finished last in their division the season before.
Cincinnati finished 4-11-1 in 2020, and was fourth in the AFC North behind Cleveland (11-5), Baltimore (11-5) and division-champion Pittsburgh (12-4).
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