National Football League
Bengals belong among NFL's elite. But this year, they fell just short
National Football League

Bengals belong among NFL's elite. But this year, they fell just short

Published Jan. 29, 2023 10:37 p.m. ET

In the end, it was just a bit too much for the Cincinnati Bengals. And not quite enough. 

A bit too much desperation, tenacity and big play ability from the Kansas City Chiefs, who avoided having to make the galling admission that there is a team which has their number.

Not quite enough presence of mind from Joseph Ossai, whose last-gasp personal foul will long be remembered in Cincy, in Kansas City and in the minds of everyone who saw it, open-mouthed, on Sunday night.

A bit too much of a Chiefs head start before Joe Burrow and the Bengals got going, a thrust that brought things all the way to level at 20-20 but was followed by a couple more shifts of the pendulum, then a final one that would ultimately prove decisive.


And not quite enough at the end to do it again; to produce another revival for the ages in the AFC Championship, on the same field, against the same opponent, with the same prize at stake.

The Bengals season ends, then, with stark suddenness in a way, for this was a campaign that came to resemble a juggernaut. It had been a long time since the Bengals had tasted defeat — October, to be exact — and there were 10 wins in between, including a convincing pair in the postseason.

Over the course of that time, Burrow has established himself as one of the league's true elite quarterbacks and the team has given itself the look of a contender for years to come. We assume that much, at least, although these windows have a habit of closing quicker than you expect if they go unfulfilled.

How will we see this in years to come? As another uplifting knock-on-the-door moment and a precursor to even better things? Or a lost opportunity, for the opportunity was there, never more so than when Patrick Mahomes uncharacteristically allowed a ball to slip through his fingers with a minute remaining in the third quarter.

When that was followed by a steely Bengals touchdown drive, highlighted by a 4th-and-6 velcro-handed stunner from Ja'Marr Chase, things seemed to be falling into place for deja vu, mimicking what took place at Arrowhead last year.

Not so. Not quite. Mahomes was ailing but giving it his all, and some cracks in the Bengals defense opened; untimely penalties and missed tackles that gave hope to the Arrowhead faithful. Then, finally, Ossai's brain-freeze to shove Mahomes as he ran out of bounds tilted a game that looked to be heading to the first contest decided by the new overtime rules.

Such moments don't typically beget gratitude. It will take time, but at some point, the Bengals fan base will realize the future is bright and there is much to look forward to.

This wasn't Burrow's grandest game, but far from his worst. He handled the incessant pressure with a mixture of brilliance and fluster, occasionally showing inspired moments like a speedy first down run but also a fourth-quarter pick and a costly intentional grounding penalty.

Burrow has made nine career game-winning drives and three of them were against the Chiefs, but there was not to be another here. 

Cincinnati started slow but it wasn't weaker. If anything, and maybe this was the difference, they lacked a little composure in the most critical of moments. 

In a battle between two of the NFL's absolute best — and the Bengals belong in that company — it was enough.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.

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