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The Bengals supply everyone (including Joe Judge) a lesson on 'culture'
In New Jersey, Joe Judge rants on and on about his team's fight and foundation. Maybe he should simply watch some Bengals-Chiefs highlights instead.
The two postgame scenes were chock-full of emotion for strikingly different reasons.
One was uninhibited delight. The other, defiant delusion.
What’s wild is that both franchises entered the 2021 NFL season in similar states of futility yet, with one week to go, are now speeding 100 MPH toward totally different destinies.
On the road, in Chicago, head coach Joe Judge continued to live in his own reality. His New York Giants miraculously discovered a new rock bottom in a 29-3 loss to the equally despondent Chicago Bears that more so resembled a puny fifth-grader getting a wedgie from an eighth-grader. The Giants finished with minus-10 yards passing. Honestly, they could have called quarterback kneeldowns or thrown the ball into the 28th row all game long and been more successful through the air. Kenny Golladay, the team’s $72 million dollar man, was targeted once. The unrosterable quarterback under center, Mike Glennon, turned the ball over four times.
Don’t worry, gang. They did try to establish a ground game. The Giants handed the ball off to running backs 39 times and, uh, well, about that. None of those 39 runs went longer than 10 yards.
Nonetheless, Judge was quick to puff his chest out afterward. He declared the ground game a success and then pontificated on… and on… and on… for 11-plus minutes straight and 2,614 words, in all.
His interpretation of this objective disaster was quite different. He more so sees the early stages of a modern-day Roman Empire.
“This ain’t a team that’s having fistfights on the sidelines,” Judge said. “This ain’t some clown show organization or something else. OK? You’re talking about the foundation built. The toughest thing to change in the team, the toughest thing to change in the club is the way people think. You understand that? That’s the toughest thing. You can get new players. You can have them in your damn locker room all you want. You have to change how people think. You got to change how they f------, pardon my, how they believe in what you're doing. And then they have to trust the process, and that's a lot easier said than done, when they’re looking up right now and you’ve got one game left and the most games you’re going to win is five this season. OK?
“But I guarantee you this, those men are going to walk in on Wednesday and be ready to roll. We're going to practice hard on Wednesday, we're going to practice hard on Thursday, and we're going to practice hard on Friday. OK? And we’re going to play for each other on the field next week.”
As we covered at Go Long, the Giants’ problems run deep. And since the team leaked that Judge would be back for a third season, the Giants have promptly been humiliated twice.
Words on a screen do not do his tirade justice. Watching Judge is honestly better than reading Judge. It’s remarkable that a head coach who’s gone 10-22 could be rewarded with more power, but that seems to be what this organization wants. And if this is who co-owner John Mara truly wishes to empower, then it’s clear the franchise is worried about all of the wrong things. Culture and foundation are neat words that make men in suits feel warm and cozy inside but when the embodiment of such rhetoric is, you know, MINUS-TEN YARDS PASSING, such a stump speech always falls flat. Judge would’ve been better off reading “The Little Engine That Could” like Greg Robinson did on his way out of Syracuse.
Because truck on out to Cincinnati? To that postgame scene? You’ll see what a winning “foundation” really looks like. After a thrilling 34-31 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Joe Burrow stuck a cigar in his mouth and danced to “Get the Gac” with Ja’Marr Chase like the two were back at LSU celebrating a national championship all over again. There was no need for 2,614-word filibustering. This team was too busy lighting up the Kansas City Chiefs. A franchise synonymous with losing — for decades — will now be contending for championships for the foreseeable future with this 25-year-old quarterback and 21-year-old receiver.
The Giants’ plunge and Bengals’ rise is a between-the-eyes reminder that talent rules above all else.
Coaches do matter. That was the topic of our Monday AM column a few weeks back. If the Giants were actually fighting like other teams stumbling to the finish line, Judge’s fiery tone would mean something. All of the hard-working, taxpaying fans could actually buy what he’s selling if the Giants were taking contenders to the final bell like the injury-ravaged Baltimore Ravens or even the 2020 Bengals. Don’t forget, down to a third-string QB, the Bengals beat the 11-2 Steelers last season. Instead, he oversees an unwatchable team essentially doing the exact opposite of what he describes and, of course, he’s a part of a much larger problem. These Giants are the product of severe mismanagement at every possible level.
Thus, any tough-guy routine is as downright cringy as it gets, straight out of a 90s rom-com. Bud Kilmer is a more believable coach than Joe Judge right now. The Giants would love to claim that their ex-scouts are a bunch of liars, yet here was the head coach of the team implying that all of the coaches in New England thought they’d get fired in 2018. That is absurd.
For all of the words we could waste in this space about “foundation,” teams need to find talent, period, and no team has failed at this more spectacularly than the Giants since Dave Gettleman was named general manager four years ago. Find a quarterback. Find a wide receiver. And, guess what? You’re golden. You’ll win. The Cincinnati Bengals were just bad enough in 2019 to get the No. 1 overall pick in 2020 and draft a quarterback who threw for 60 touchdowns as a senior at LSU. Ten games in, that quarterback tore his ACL behind a bad offensive line, giving the Bengals the fifth overall pick in 2021. Instead of doing what draft experts demanded, by selecting Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, by finding a hog molly of their own, the Bengals handed Burrow his college receiver: Chase.
The results have been devastating for opposing defenses.
Together, Burrow and Chase are shattering records on a week-to-week basis.
Chase’s 266 receiving yards vs. the Chiefs set a rookie record. Kansas City had no answer. At one point, cornerback Charvarius Ward even threw up his hands in disbelief.
One week after throwing for more yards than any Bengal in any game ever, Burrow broke Boomer Esiason’s single-season passing record. These aren’t plucky challengers just happy to be here. With Burrow and Chase leading the way, the Bengals are a legitimate threat in the AFC. Gettleman’s big mistake was choosing the wrong players at the top of drafts, of course. But also, unlike Gettleman, the Bengals spent wisely around a quarterback on a rookie deal. Pass rusher Trey Hendrickson, defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi and cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie have all transformed the defense.
Other players deserve credit around here.
Veteran wide receiver Tyler Boyd — who we profiled earlier this season — has been one incredibly valuable voice behind the scenes.
Nobody should overthink this sport the way Judge does at the podium. Teams take on the personality of their coach, etc., etc. but, without players, nothing Judge says really matters. The cream always rises to the top. A talent like Patrick Mahomes is going to dazzle and defy the odds en route to a Super Bowl in 2019. A defense like Tampa Bay’s in 2020 is going to make play after play en route to a Super Bowl in 2020 with, of course, the greatest player ever on their side. And on Sunday, Burrow and Chase officially asserted themselves as the best QB-WR duo in the league.
That alone is enough. That alone is as scary as anything you’ll find in the AFC.
Mahomes’ improvisation. Josh Allen’s muzzleloader right arm. Bill Belichick’s brain. Jonathan Taylor’s dominance. The fact that Derrick Henry resembles a Marvel character. The rapport between Burrow and Chase is right there with any other singular force in the conference. Whatever synergy exists between these two players has a chance to overwhelm any defense.
They turned this game against the Chiefs into backyard football. On the game-winning drive, Burrow simply chucked it up to his pal deep right for 35- and 30-yard gains. Early in the game, he let Chase do all the work. On Chase’s first of three touchdowns, he hit the brakes to make linebacker Nick Bolton completely whiff and… see ya. Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill, who ran a 4.42 at the Combine, had a perfect angle but it didn’t matter.
Chase dusted him 72 yards to the end zone.
This Bengals team is far from perfect. Burrow is still getting hit — a lot. He has suffered some scary injuries from getting clobbered against Green Bay, to getting poked in the throat of the same game, to an injured pinky on his throwing hand against the Chargers, to being sacked an NFL-high 51 times. It’s abundantly clear Burrow is one of the toughest players in the league (as reflected by his inclusion in the 1st All Old School Team at Go Long!) One week after making Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale eat his “gold jacket” words, Burrow threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns against a Chiefs defense that hadn’t allowed a 300-yard passer in nearly three months.
And he did it all while absorbing four sacks, having the nameplate ripped off his jersey and suffering a right knee injury.
It’s about time we all recognized Burrow as a top 5 quarterback.
He took on Mahomes, and won. Into Sunday, Mahomes was 33-2 in his career when leading a game by 14 points. Burrow was down 14-0, then 21-7, yet — with Chase — kept bringing Cincy back.
That’s what real fight looks like.
And beyond numbers, beyond records, Burrow and Chase have effectively changed the attitude, the ethos, the, yes, culture of this entire team. The Bengals have forever been the franchise of misery and dismay and cheap ownership. Not anymore. Before the game, their quarterback wore a shirt featuring the faces of his top three receivers. After the game, cigar in hand, he wore one declaring the Bengals division champs.
A rah-rah speech from head coach Zac Taylor didn’t do the trick around here. Talent did.
For Cincy, this is probably just the beginning.
For New York, it’s back to square one.
As sharp as Josh Allen has played this season, history tells us that even the greats need a running game at some point every January. It took a while, but the Buffalo Bills finally got around to emphasizing Devin Singletary, who turned himself into a different back over the offseason. In a win over Atlanta, Allen’s three interceptions were offset by the man known as “Motor.” Singletary rushed for 110 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns, while Allen added 81 and two scores himself. If the Bills do face a rugged team like the Colts in the wild card, I doubt it’d be another 41-15 beatdown.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers deserve this. Antonio Brown’s moronic display on Sunday was 100 percent inevitable the day the Bucs signed the wide receiver.
Oh, well. So much for the Dolphins sneaking into the playoffs. With the season on the line, Tua Tagovailoa threw 20 incompletions, one pick, was sacked four times and fumbled three times (losing one). A seven-game win streak warrants bringing the band back together for 2022 but there’s no avoiding the fact that, in back-to-back seasons, Tagovailoa played his worst with a playoff berth at stake.
Props to Nick Sirianni for completely changing the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive identity on the fly. So many coaches stay stuck in their ways — he didn’t. He realized that the Eagles’ best shot at success was by running early and running often and, now, the 9-7 Eagles are playoff-bound with the No. 1 rushing attack in football. Through 16 games, they have 2,566 yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground. Regardless of who they play, Philly will be a tough out.
There’s a 70 percent chance the Cowboys and Cardinals play each other again in the playoffs. With or without DeAndre Hopkins, take Arizona. Coordinator Vance Joseph had his defense flying at AT&T Stadium.
The 49ers didn’t exactly unleash their rookie quarterback to the fullest extent but Trey Lance did throw two touchdowns and averaged 10.8 yards per attempt in a 23-7 win over Houston. Heck, why look back? You dealt three first-rounders for the quarterback. Start him in the win-and-in Week 18 game against the Rams. There’s enough to like here in the present and the future.
Quick programming note. Due to the Covid-19 outbreak here in Western New York and league protocols, the final in-person episode of the Isaiah McKenzie Show unfortunately will not be happening at Mister’s Bar & Lanes tonight as planned. Be sure to catch up on all episodes right here any time you’d like.