Hartman: Bengals to the Super Bowl? Sometimes it’s good to be wrong

I don’t typically write about the Bengals, but the option is always there.

I started a few blog posts during the season but never finished any.

I started a bunch of tweets, too, but didn’t send many.

I’d certainly look a lot dumber today if I had shared more of my Bengals opinions since the start of the season.

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And that’s not to say I would have been wrong all those times I had a negative thought, but certainly there would be takes that are decidedly colder than they were in September or October.

These days it’s hard to find fault with the Bengals (aside from the offensive line).

Ownership, front office, social media, coaching — heck, even the trainers — everyone looks good right about now.

The players did this, from Joe Burrow on down to the last guy on the roster, but the way everyone involved with the Bengals has come through this season is truly remarkable.

I did not think they would win Sunday in Kansas City.

I felt like that win in the regular season was a fluke for multiple reasons. They deserved to win that game, sure, but lots of things that could have gone either way went their way including big plays and penalties.

This time the Chiefs had home field, the experienced quarterback and the stars on offense to match the Bengals plus a superior offensive line.

The stats were all in KC’s favor, as was the fact the Bengals had really needed some good fortune to win the week before against a worse Titans team. (Notably Ryan Tannehill’s interceptions to start and end the game that set up a pair of field goals that decided the game.)

But that’s why they play the games — and both halves. All year, the Bengals just kept coming. They had some bad starts but many strong finishes. That was a source of criticism in the middle of the year, but when the record is over .500 at the end, you have to look at that glass half full.

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On Sunday, they made Kansas City work for it, and the Chiefs crumbled. And the Bengals took advantage — a significant factor not to be overlooked. Cincinnati not only knocked the door down but walked on through.

Before the season, I figured seven wins would be a solid year with six being a little disappointing and anything less a disaster. Eight or nine wins was not out of the question but unlikely.

I still did not think the Bengals would be anywhere near the Super Bowl in the middle of the season.

After the debacle against the Browns in Cincinnati, I figured they would alternate wins and loses until the last two weeks then need to upset the Chiefs — and maybe Cleveland — to get to the postseason.

They exceeded those expectations, of course, and I’m happy to be wrong in this case.

What’s funny is we expected Burrow to be great.

The skill players, too.

The offensive line? Yeah, this is also about how good most thought they would be.

The defense was the story Sunday, and it has been much of the season.

Turns out having all your players available — or at least most of them — does make a big difference for that unit, which they tried to upgrade last year but got little for their investment because of injuries.

I don’t have any regrets doubting this coaching staff before the season.

I was just going by what I could see up to that point, and it wasn’t much.

They put together a poor record over two years, and they didn’t bring much to the table via resumes in the first place.

But the players obviously believed in the staff. The people in the battle always know more than us on the outside, though we tend to forget that.

Zac Taylor has had some game management foibles throughout the season — many coaches do at least from time to time — but he gets credit for pushing the right buttons in the locker room down the stretch.

Whatever battles he might have lost, he certainly won the war of putting together a team that has a winning mindset.

How does an average team — which is what the Bengals are on paper — get to the Super Bowl? Well the short answer is by having a guy like Joe Burrow at quarterback, but that’s really not enough. The Bengals have won because of many guys growing up and stepping up, from Sam Hubbard to Germaine Pratt to Vonn Bell to Tee Higgins and even rookie kicker Evan McPherson. They’ve taken turns making plays that are more important than one on the stat sheet. Sometimes “when” is more important than “how,” and that has been the case for this team in the playoffs.

All the intangibles are there for these Bengals, and they seem to be getting stronger with the competition.

What’s next? Don’t ask me. I haven’t known for a while.

And that ain’t half bad lately…

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