Could the Bengals be Legit in 2018? Or Will We be Disappointed Again?

Last Thursday’s game against the Ravens showed us a surprising new Bengals team. After beating the Colts in Week 1, they became the NFL’s first 2-0 team with their dominance over Baltimore. It felt like a different team playing in Cincinnati. And it felt good.

This time last year, they’d already lost to Houston. Now two weeks into the 2018 season, their offense has averaged 34 points per game, compared to 4.5 points last year after Week 2. After Thursday’s game, it’s clear they’re hoping to prove everybody wrong. Because there are plenty of people that don’t have faith in the Bengals…

Earlier this year, Stephen A Smith ripped into the Bengals, specifically their head coach Marvin Lewis. He says Lewis deserves to be fired, calling him a disgrace to the city of Cincinnati. And the numbers do appear to back him up. With 15 seasons as head coach, Lewis has never had a playoff victory. Not that they haven’t had the chance. The Bengals made the playoffs for five seasons (though they’ve missed the postseason for the past two years) but they always get sent home early.

That means the Bengals have gone 125 regular season games without any playoff wins. It would be newfound territory for the team under Lewis (who is 0-7 in the postseason) but what makes it that much worse, according to Smith, is Lewis’s lengthy tenure as an NFL head coach. Only Bill Belichick has coached longer than him (and we all know what his record looks like). Fan attendance is suffering too. Only the Chargers and the Browns have a worse attendance than Cincinnati. Smith says their fan base is abandoning the Bengals and the fact that a head coach gets to keep his job while that happens is just cray.

So… can they turn things around in 2018?

Fans seemed hyped up on Thursday night. The Bengals organization not only tries to get everybody involved with chants of “Who dey?” but they offered up the chance to meet the ’88 squad – the last Bengals team to make it to the Super Bowl – on Thursday night, plus autographs and swag. Energy levels were up for Cincinnati, both in terms of the players and fans, and it ended up being one of the best nights for the Bengals in a while.

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This 34 to 23 win was solid. Compared to their Week 1 game against the Colts, you’d be forgiven if you thought you were watching the same game. Same score. Same ending. Trailing team has momentum, Bengals force a fumble, score a touchdown, and put their opponents out of their misery

Quarterback Andy Dalton looked promising as well. He hasn’t thrown any interceptions lately, had no sacks on Thursday, and threw four touchdowns in the first half. Dalton gets rid of the ball quickly and he’s showing real chemistry with his receivers. 

The Bengals are forcing turnovers this season too. They’ve already racked up five turnovers in these two games, whereas last season they forced a total of 14 in all 16 of their games. Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin preaches the gospel of turnovers, and Shawn Williams and Jessie Bates are swallowing it up and following orders. 

On the defensive line, despite Michael Johnson out with a knee injury, Sam Hubbard and Pro-Bowlers Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap looked scary. The Bengals tallied up six sacks against Flacco and dominated both lines of scrimmage.

AJ Green is a machine. The dominant wide receiver is an amazing route-runner. To help him be even better, the Bengals can match him up in the slot where he has a ton of room to work. Green shows he can work the complete field there – with four touchdowns in just two weeks – and he’s on a hot streak right now. It’s no secret that he’s one of the best receivers in the league and a Hall of Fame shoe-in. On Thursday, Green had an explosive first half with three touchdowns on his first three catches. Though he didn’t rise to his full potential last season, it looks like he’s ready to roll this fall, proving especially helpful on the third down.

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Number-two receiver Tyler Boyd also had a great game – he actually had more receptions and receiving yards that Green. (Yeah, kinda surprising right?) Boyd scored one touchdown, clearly vibing and connecting with Andy Dalton later in the game. The Ravens defensive line was pushed around consistently because of the Bengals’ fast pace.

Seriously, the Bengals offense is totally different. They’ve accumulated 351 yards versus 258 after Week 2 in 2017 and a total of 7 touchdowns compared to zero this time last year. Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor, who may have something to do with this new look and feel.

The thing is, many people would say, “Maybe it was the Ravens.” But really, nobody expected this win from the Bengals, especially considering the way the Baltimore D-line played last week. Sure, the Ravens put themselves in a hole early on, and Flacco didn’t look great – he was a little out of sync with the receivers – but don’t take credit away from the Bengals. On Thursday night, they deserved the win. They wanted it more.

The one big thing that didn’t go right for the Bengals? Promising rookie center Billy Price left the field with a foot injury. (Now, it looks like he’ll be out of commission for a few weeks.) But even that moment had a silver lining. In what we can only hope is a bright omen for the Bengals’ season, Price hyped up the crowd as he was leaving the field.

Sports experts report that a 2-0 Bengals team usually goes to the playoffs. The next two road games at Carolina and Atlanta will help us determine if they’re for real.

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What do you think? Were these two games a fluke? Or just a sign of things to come for the Bengals?