The Bengals were in midfield and one touchdown away from winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history. Seven months later, the Jets can essentially end the Bengals’ season in September.
One of last season’s best stories has become a cliché. The long-suffering franchise that unexpectedly won the AFC now appears to be the latest victim of a Super Bowl hangover.
A step back was not unexpected for Cincinnati. Even with Joe Burrow, 25, entering his scoop, the Bengals would struggle to emerge again from a fraught conference with the Bills and the Chiefs. But it looked like at least the Bengals would have a chance to defend their AFC title in the playoffs.
Then Week 1 ended with a home loss in overtime for the Mitch Trubisky-led Steelers. Week 2 ended with one last-second loss to the Cooper Rush-led Cowboys. The Bengals became the first Super Bowl-era team to lose their first two games of the season after getting at least one touchdown in every game.
The Bengals will now aim to become the first team since 2018 to make the playoffs after losing their first two games, a feat only 12 of the 125 teams have accomplished since 2007, leaving sportsbooks making the Bengals -175 favorites to miss the postseason. If it happens, it would be the third time in the past four years that the Super Bowl runner-up has failed to make it into the postseason the following season.
The Bengals enter Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium as five-point favorites. But less than a year ago, the Jets upset the Bengals in New Jersey when Mike White threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start, bringing the Jets back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
“Everyone is frustrated, but we’re not panicking,” Burrow said. “Played two games, we have 15 left, let’s all take a deep breath and relax.
“We’re going to be fine. We are not concerned.”
Maybe he should be.
After being fired 70 times last season—the third-highest single-season total in NFL history, including the Rams’ seven in the Super Bowl, a record-breaking record—the Bengals thought they had recovered their Achilles heel by bring in four new starters on the offensive line, including veteran center Ted Karras. Over two games, Burrow has been fired 13 times — putting him on pace to break David Carr’s single-season record of 76 — and the quarterback started week 3 in 28th place.e in the league in yards per attempt (6.0) after leading the league last season (8.6).
Burrow had been conditioned to believe that the best lay ahead. He is just three years away from winning a Heisman Trophy and a National Championship, making him the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. After sustaining a knee injury at the end of the season as a rookie, he returned to lead the Bengals to their first playoff win in 31 years and led his team with less than 90 seconds left in the Super Bowl.
“We are a young team, you would like to think that we will return to this situation several times in the coming years,” Burrow said after the game. “We’ll take this and let it fuel you for the rest of our career.”
But young and talented cores have collapsed countless times. Second chances are not written in the stars.
Dan Marino was 23 in 1984 when he wrote the best-ever season by a quarterback and made his only Super Bowl appearance; the Dolphins followed suit with only one post-season berth over the next five years. Joe Namath was 25 when he fulfilled his Super Bowl guarantee; he played in one more postseason game. Ralph Sampson’s knees fell apart after the 1986 NBA Finals. Shaq and Penny split a year after reaching the 1995 NBA Finals. The 2012 Thunder was the second youngest team in Finals history and never went back.
If the Bengals don’t recover this season, they’ll have plenty of time to avoid joining that list. But their unlikely playoff run raised expectations to a level that Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and/or Lamar Jackson might not let them reach again.
The Bengals were 49 yards from a championship. You won’t be surprised if they never come any closer.
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Bite of Apple for Judge’s No. 61?
All eyes are on Apple TV+.
Aaron Judge failed to match Roger Maris’ single-season American League home run record Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, going 0-for-2 — including an extremely loud out to the midfield warning lane — with three walks in. a 10-inning, 5-4 win over the Red Sox. The Yankees secured a postseason berth with the win.
The MVP frontrunner will now aim to hit a historic 61st home run of the year in front of a limited local audience on Apple TV+.
Friday night’s match — 7:05 p.m. ET, Gerrit Cole vs. Rich Hill — presented for free on the streaming platform. Contact a Gen Z family member if you are having trouble signing up.
Today’s Back Cover (Early Edition)
A silent goodbye
Oh, and you’ll need a cable package that also includes Tennis Channel.
Roger Federer won’t get the grand farewell he deserves – the kind Serena Williams recently received at the US Open – but the 20-time grand slam champion will give fans the chance to bid farewell tonight in London, where he will play doubles in the last game of his career alongside Rafael Nadal against Americans Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock in the Laver Cup.
“I’m nervous to go in because I haven’t played in so long,” Federer said this week. “I hope I can be somewhat competitive.”
Federer, 41, has not played since he lost in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon last year. He had hoped to resume his career before his troublesome right knee forced the Swiss superstar to quietly end his storied career.
“I’m not sure I can handle it all, but I’ll try,” Federer said.
Much has been said about his artistry, grace and gifts, but one of the most unique wrinkles of Federer’s career is that he is arguably the only player in great sports history to be considered the greatest player of all time in his sport amid his career, only to be surpassed – twice! — on court before his career was over.
(Maybe there are others who qualify, but I’ve thought long and hard about other things and no obvious candidate came up. Babe Ruth had dominated long enough to be considered the best ever when Ty Cobb in 1928 retired, but the Tigers star still earned the highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes in Cooperstown’s inaugural class in 1936.)
While Federer is undoubtedly the most popular player of the golden age of tennis, he will finish his career with fewer titles than Nadal (22) and Novak Djokovic (21), and he will also lose personal bests against both rivals. Federer went 16-24 against Nadal (4-10 at grand slam events) and 23-27 against Djokovic (6-11 at grand slams).