CINCINNATI — From last to first, just like that. Special things happen wherever Joe Burrow goes. Cincinnati is no different thus far after the Bengals' 34-31 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Bengals are AFC North champions for the first time since 2015.
Ja'Marr Chase ran point on arguably the greatest passing performance in franchise history. The Pro Bowler and his quarterback set plenty of records along the way.
“Everything's overwhelming at the moment. I'm not going to lie," Chase said postgame on his 266 receiving yards, a single-game franchise record.
Let's dive into our Three Down Look at another masterful offensive performance in the most important game of the season.
2021 MVP Winner Joe Burrow?
The Bengals franchise player is playing better than any quarterback in the NFL right now and just brought a mostly-overlooked team from the ashes. He completed 30-of-39 attempts for 446 yards and four touchdowns. The yardage total is the second-most in his career, only to last week's outburst against Baltimore.
I had a feeling the magic returned watching him play Los Angeles, and it's only getting better. Burrow was under duress throughout the afternoon, but he didn't flinch. Chase and the rest of the Bengals' receivers faced stiff coverage all afternoon until the leather hit gloves.
Kansas City's pass defense played well over the past six weeks, ranking third overall in EPA per pass allowed. After placing in the 100th percentile of Ben Baldwin's database against Baltimore, Burrow totaled 28.4 EPA on Sunday. That ranks in the 99th percentile of the database.
He did appear to injure his knee towards the end of the game but said he felt alright.
"It's my right knee that was a little sore after the Chargers game," Burrow said. "I just re-aggravated it a little bit, nothing serious."
MVPs change franchises. MVPs level up in the biggest moments of the season. The Bengals' signal-caller is doing all of this a little over a year after knee surgery. Cincinnati may not end up with enough wins, and the turnovers stick out, but Burrow is playing as well as any player in a wide-open MVP race.
Ja'Marr Chase Overwhelms Chiefs Secondary
"'You're gonna play him one-on-one, a lot of times it's going to be a long day for you," Burrow said about Chase's masterful display.
The greatest receiving performance in Bengals history now belongs to Chase, who finished with 11 catches, 266 yards, and three touchdowns. He eclipsed Chad Johnson's record and notched the 16th receiving performance in NFL history of 265-plus yards.
"Everyone knows that meme," Burrow said. "F-it Ja'Marr's down there somewhere. I'm just going to throw it up to him; he's going to make a play."
It's the most receiving yards by a rookie in NFL history. Buffalo Bills wide receiver Jerry Butler (255 yards) held the record since 1979.
Chase cooked up plenty of jump ball Jambalaya and showed off his elite open-field playmaking ability on one of the most impressive long touchdowns of the year. He was a menace on the outside, totaling eye-popping numbers near the sidelines.
Burrow kept a consistent theme in the postgame press conference: Single cover Chase and you will pay.
The offense rolled all day against a defense that was playing great football. There is no "scout team" defense excuse this week. Chase (13 TDs) is looking at Randy Moss (17 TDs) atop the rookie receiving mountain and telling him to make some room.
Two Different Halves on Defense
Kansas City got on a roll early in Paul Brown Stadium but faced a brick wall after halftime. The most-feared offense in the NFL over the past three years scored three points after the break.
Cincinnati dropped a pair of interceptions in the game but did a great job tackling and not allowing a flurry of chunk plays to turn into a full-game avalanche. The Chiefs are too good at this point in the season not to break through eventually, but Cincinnati's offense helped on this side of the ball as well.
Neither team had a turnover in the game and split the total drive share 9-to-9. The defense made sure Burrow had enough opportunities to show why no one is playing the position better right now.
Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and the rest of the Bengals secondary limited Tyreek Hill to six catches for 40 yards. His 6.7 yards per catch were the game-breakers' second-lowest total of the season.
To beat the Chiefs you have to take away one of the three-headed dragons, preferably Hill, because of how quickly he can punish teams. Cincinnati did that masterfully on Sunday.
Today's NFL is about timely defensive plays mixed with elite offensive talent. The 2021-22 AFC North Champions marked both of those boxes after checking off one of the goals for this season. Playoff football is back in the Queen City.
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