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Are The Cincinnati Bengals Back?

<p>The Cincinnati Bengals are hoping to get their 2023 winning percentage back to .500 this weekend against the Seattle Seahawks.</p>

The Cincinnati Bengals are hoping to get their 2023 winning percentage back to .500 this weekend against the Seattle Seahawks.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said last Sunday’s contest against the Arizona Cardinals was a must-win. 

The Bengals went on the road holding onto a 1-3 record. With how the AFC North favorites’ season had been going, a loss would have made playoff contention highly unlikely. 

Since the 1966 AFL-NFL merger, only 10 teams have made the postseason after a 1-4 start. Since the league expanded the playoffs to 14 teams in 2020, no team has climbed out of such a hole. 

Fortunately, the Bengals advanced to 2-3 with a 34-20 victory in Arizona. After struggling early in the season to get the offense off and running, the team looked more like its old self. 

So, are the Bengals back? If you ask the people of Cincinnati, they’d strongly agree. 

Last season, the Bengals also headed into Week 6 standing at 2-3. Three months later, the team played in its second-consecutive AFC championship game.

However, one performance can’t determine if a team is officially back. But, the Bengals showed immense progress to get themselves in shape on Sunday.

It’s clear that in the first four weeks of the season, Joe Burrow’s calf injury prevented the Cincinnati offense from finding any sort of rhythm. The 26-year-old’s calf limited his mobility and ability to plant on the turf to make powerful throws. As a result, the Bengals’ high-powered offense scored only three touchdowns in four weeks, the lowest in the league before Week 5.

The Bengals built their recent success on Burrow making big plays with his elite weapons. During the team's Super Bowl run in 2021, Burrow led the league with 8.9 yards per pass attempt. 

To start 2023, the injured Burrow averaged just 4.8 yards a pass. But the quarterback we all know and love seemed to reemerge in Arizona. 

Burrow looked shifty in the pocket on Sunday. His rediscovered ability to buy time with his legs opened up the field for down-field throws. 

Burrow finished the afternoon completing 78% of his passes for 317 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. On throws of at least 10 yards, Joe Shiesty went 7/12 for 134 yards and two scores. 

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Bengals superstar receiver Ja’Marr Chase made his presence known after last week’s comments voicing his frustration on lack of targets. At State Farm Stadium, Chase set the franchise record for single-game receptions with 15, along with 192 yards. He snagged all three of Burrow’s touchdown passes.

Burrow’s ability to step up in the pocket to throw a deep strike to Chase is the biggest advantage the Bengals offense has. Before last week, his calf injury took that element out of the playbook.

With a seemingly healthier calf, Burrow’s ability to extend plays was on full display. According to NextGen Stats, he held the ball for 4.8 seconds to find Chase for an 11-yard score in the fourth quarter. 

Still, the Bengals need to repeat their performance again before I’m convinced.

It sounds cliche, but the Bengals hosting Seattle this Sunday is a must-win. A victory over the Seahawks would improve the Bengals’ record to .500 before a much-needed bye week for Burrow’s calf and receiver Tee Higgins’ ribs. 

The matchup is not a layup on the schedule like last year’s “we’re back” Week 6 game against the New Orleans Saints. Seattle made the postseason last year and is currently 3-1 following a bye week. 

Defensively, the Bengals front is excellent at getting to the quarterback but not so much stopping the run. Cincinnati is giving up 154 rushing yards per game (third-worst in the league). Despite coming out of Arizona with a 14-point victory, the Cardinals pounded the rock 22 times for 142 yards and a score. 

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll will look to run through the Bengals front with running back Kenneth Walker III. Despite playing just four games, Walker III has five rushing touchdowns on the year (t-4th in the league).

However, if Joe Burrow has returned to form, he and Chase should have a field day on a Seattle secondary allowing 280 passing yards a game (third-worst in the league). 

So no, the Bengals are not officially back. But their win in Arizona showed that they have a pulse. If Cincinnati wins at home against Seattle, the dreadful start to 2023 will be erased going into their bye week.