The Cincinnati Bengals are playoff winners for the first time in 31 years, and Saturday evening’s 26-19 result against the overmatched Las Vegas Raiders felt like the start of something bigger. The Bengals probably won’t get to the Super Bowl this year, but with Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase just scratching the surface of their abilities, we should expect deep playoff runs to be the rule, not the exception going forward.
Cincinnati Bengals young stars Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Burrow shine vs. Raiders
Meanwhile, in Miami, the Dolphins are starting over once again. In the coming days, they’ll hire their fourth head coach in the last decade (not including interims).
Cincinnati’s win means the Dolphins now have the longest stretch without a playoff victory (21 years) of any AFC team. What’s more, they have major questions at quarterback, regardless of what team brass strategically leaked about Tua Tagovailoa earlier Saturday.
Put another way — the Bengals executed the tank job, and the Dolphins did not. But the gulf between these franchises isn’t just about one team making good decisions and the other making poor ones.
Really, it’s a matter of the Dolphins making a bunch of bad decisions that directly benefited the Bengals. Mike Brown owes Stephen Ross a steak dinner for gift-wrapping a budding dynasty in Cincinnati.
The Bengals’ core is built on the backs of the Dolphins’ mistakes
The Bengals’ coaching staff has a bunch of ex-Dolphins assistants who ended up far more competent than the organization gave them credit for. Ex-Dolphins QBs coach Zac Taylor received no consideration for head coach after Joe Philbin was fired. Yet, he’s built a dynamic offense in Cincy.
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo was Miami’s DBs coach for five years under Philbin and Adam Gase in Miami. Marion Hobby was Brian Flores’ defensive line coach before making a lateral move last offseason. Their defense was plenty good enough this season to keep the games close enough for Burrow and Chase to win.
But none of those staffing decisions would have mattered if the Bengals didn’t nail their last two drafts. Burrow and Chase are franchise-changing players, and both should be Dolphins.
Cincinnati executed a tank better than Miami
Both the Dolphins and Bengals knew they would be drafting quarterbacks in 2020. But only Cincinnati made the smart organizational play. The Bengals started a greatly diminished Andy Dalton, along with backup Ryan Finley, who played poorly enough to go 2-14 and secured the No. 1 pick. The Dolphins, meanwhile, started 0-7 and had 0-16 well within sight.
But instead of playing a terrible Josh Rosen, who would almost certainly have gotten the job done, Brian Flores went back to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who led the Dolphins to wins in five of their last nine games. That decision took Miami out of consideration for the top pick. The Dolphins ended up selecting fifth and out of the running for Burrow. Miami ultimately settled on Tua over Justin Herbert. Tagovailoa has been by the far the worst of the three top QBs in the 2020 class.
Then, in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Dolphins outsmarted themselves again. General manager Chris Grier owned Houston’s third overall pick and had his choice of any skill-position player. Instead of staying put and taking Chase (or even Kyle Pitts), he orchestrated a three-team trade that dropped the Dolphins to sixth overall. They used that selection on Jaylen Waddle, who is a fine player. But his rookie season wasn’t nearly as dynamic as the one Chase put together. The Bengals didn’t think twice about taking Chase fifth overall, and he rewarded that faith with a likely Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign.
On Saturday, Waddle and Tua were NFL postseason spectators. Burrow and Chase were stars. They connected for 9 receptions and 116 yards. Most importantly, they were winners in the playoffs. And they have the Dolphins to thank.
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