LOS ANGELES — The Cincinnati Bengals have gone from doormat to budding dynasty. And with a win Sunday against the favored Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 56, they would not only win the first title in their 54-year history, but they would also cap the greatest turnaround in NFL history.
Cincinnati Bengals on verge of historic turnaround
The Bengals were a largely irrelevant — if not embarrassing team — for much of the last three decades. Prior to this postseason, their last playoff win came in 1990. And entering the season, Zac Taylor seemed more likely to get fired than to win the AFC.
In his first two seasons as Bengals head coach, Taylor went 6-25-1. Cincinnati owned the No. 1 pick in 2020 and the No. 5 pick in 2021.
The team staked its future to Joe Burrow, but there were major concerns about the plan after he went down with a season-ending knee injury that required reconstructive surgery during his rookie campaign.
However, Burrow not only made a full recovery, but he also developed into one of the most clutch quarterbacks in football, rising to the moment in the second half of the season and throughout the playoffs.
Bengals go from worst to first
As a result, the Bengals have a chance to go from worst to first. After a 4-11-1 record in 2020, they rebounded to win the AFC North and then three playoff games, including the last two on the road.
No team with a worse two-year record (6-25-1) went on to even reach the Super Bowl, let alone win it. The previous historically worst team to reach the Super Bowl was the Carolina Panthers, who posted an 8-24 mark before winning the NFC in 2003.
And the Bengals are on the verge of one of the greatest one-year turnarounds, as well. The St. Louis (now LA) Rams in 1999 improved their regular-season record by nine games and then survived the Tennessee Titans in the Super Bowl.
Explaining the Bengals’ one-year turnaround
The decisions to draft Burrow in 2020 and Ja’Marr Chase in 2021 have been franchise-altering. The Bengals’ fortune and foresight will likely convince teams already inclined to tank to do so.
“Just the presence of an ice-cold-blooded killer out there,” Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah said of Burrow this week. “… I mean, it’s great. It’s great. That’s why I call him franchise. He’s a franchise player. He’s someone who can turn an organization around.
“[But] it’s not one person,” Uzomah continued. “It’s not. I mean, this is a team game, it’s the ultimate team game. And, you know, one of the hardest things to achieve in sports and, you know, but he is a vital part in why we are where we are. He’s a man that I loved. This is sick, so I’m glad he’s on my team, that’s for sure.”
Uzomah is right. The Bengals dedicated considerable resources this offseason to their defense, and without those players, they wouldn’t be here.
“That’s a testament to Coach Taylor and you know, his staff,” Uzomah added. “Not too long ago, we were two and whatever. And then, you know, we’ve progressively gotten a little bit better. And now we’ve just taken that massive leap, right? And that does speak to the culture.”