BALTIMORE – Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd made his team’s intentions clear as he prepared to face the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7.
“It’s time to change the script,” Boyd said three days before the Bengals looked to break a five-game losing streak against Baltimore. “It is time to take the throne.”
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After a 41-17 win on Sunday, the Bengals are holding the title in the AFC North. In the span of seven games this season, Cincinnati has gone from being the worst team in the division to having a share of the best record.
Suddenly, Cincinnati is faced with a new challenge: learning to be the hunted team instead of the victorious team.
“We’re starting to earn respect, but we still have a long way to go,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said after the victory at M&T Bank Stadium. “Just winning a road game against a divisional opponent, that’s what you have to do if you want to compete in this league.”
Cincinnati (5-2) has spent most of the past two years renewing its identity on and off the field. Examples of that include unusual spending on free agents and adding a ring of honor to recognize the greats of the past, who debuted earlier this season.
But all those improvements were purely cosmetic until he improved the product in the field. The first indicator that was happening was a Week 3 win on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers, another AFC North rival that had dominated the Bengals in recent years.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who completed 23 of 38 passes for 416 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday, compared the victory over the Steelers to that against Baltimore on Sunday.
Burrow noted that the offense, which scored more than 40 points for the first time since 2013, was significantly better than Pittsburgh. He said that while it is good to win both games against key divisional opponents, he is aware that a rematch is looming on the schedule.
Joe Burrow is shown with three touchdown passes, leading the Bengals to a great victory over the Ravens.
“We have to play with those guys [Baltimore] again later in the year, so we know they’ll be ready just as well as Pittsburgh, ”Burrow said. “So we really have to keep improving.”
There is no doubt that both games will be surrounded by both enemies. Boyd accused Pittsburgh of quitting late in their game, while Bengals cornerback Eli Apple taunted Baltimore. Slogan “Big Truss” on the way to the locker room.
But those kinds of comments are the byproduct of a team feeling a confidence that hasn’t existed in the last two seasons, a team more than happy to be the commanding force in the division.
“We’re trying to establish who we are as a team and warn the league that these are not the Bengals of the past,” said Bengals tight end CJ Uzomah, who had 91 receiving yards and two touchdowns against Baltimore.
However, that territory has different difficulties that these Bengals are not used to, namely maintaining a level of excellence and taking on teams that will certainly not bypass Cincinnati.
Taylor, who has led the team to seven wins in his last 10 games, is aware of that challenge.
“We can’t let this week drag on and our guys get fat and happy,” he said. “That’s not what good teams do.”
Cincinnati will visit the New York Jets 1-6 (Sunday, 1 pm ET on CBS) before another divisional game against the Cleveland Browns (November 7, 1 pm ET on CBS). If the Bengals win that Week 9 game at home, they will sweep their first round of AFC North games for the first time since 2015, the last time the Bengals made the postseason.
Before the season began, Cincinnati talked about making the playoffs, something that seemed unlikely after a combined 6-25 record in the previous two years. But after seven games, that talk no longer sounds like an illusion.
“You know, the goal was not to go 5-2,” Burrow said. “We have higher aspirations.”