Cincinnati Bengals remind AFC they are defending conference champs | Opinion

Remember when the Cincinnati Bengals started 0-2? Cincinnati’s minor Super Bowl hangover is a distant memory now.

That's because the Bengals reminded the AFC on Sunday that they are the defending AFC champions.

Cincinnati defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in a physical game that had a playoff atmosphere. The victory was the Bengals’ third win over Kansas City in the calendar year and improved their record to 8-4 this season. Cincinnati defeated Kansas City (9-3) twice in January, including in the AFC Championship Game, and added another for good measure Sunday in front of a frenzied crowd at Paycor Stadium.

“Our guys just made plays. We just told our guys to cut it loose. There is no fear of failure in this building. We want to go be aggressive and go make plays. This is the type of game where you want to do that,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “Our guys are so poised and so confident.”

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Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) runs off the field after the victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Paycor Stadium.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) runs off the field after the victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Paycor Stadium.

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was excellent. He went 25-of-31 passing for 286 yards and two touchdowns, showing poise and making clutch throws. Wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, playing in his first game since Week 7 due to a hip injury, had seven receptions and 97 yards, including a big catch on third down that allowed Cincinnati to milk the clock late in the fourth quarter. Running back Samaje Perine produced 106 yards on the ground.

It was a collective effort from a Bengals offense that compiled 431 total yards on an overwhelmed Kansas City defense.

Burrow and Chase will garner most of the Monday morning headlines, but Cincinnati’s defense deserves a ton of credit for the team’s resurgence.

The Bengals went into Sunday with the NFL’s 13th-ranked defense. During Cincinnati’s hot streak, the defense contained Titans running back Derrick Henry to 38 rushing yards in Week 12’s win and held MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes to 223 passing yards and a touchdown.

On special teams, kicker Evan McPherson has been perfect on field goal attempts the past three weeks (7-for-7).

“We have really good players and really good coaches," Burrow said. "We come up with great game plans every time. We just have guys that know what it takes in those big moments to make plays to win a game,” Burrow told reporters postgame.

The Bengals might’ve had a sluggish start to the year, but they have since found their groove. They’ve rattled off four straight wins, two of which have come against AFC contenders in the Titans and Chiefs. They have the longest active winning streak in the AFC, and they are tied with the Baltimore Ravens, who lost Lamar Jackson to a knee injury Sunday, for the No. 1 spot in the AFC North.

Week 13 was more than just a win on the scoreboard, though. It was a sign the Bengals are back as contenders.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Tyler Dragon on Twitter @TheTylerDragon.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cincinnati Bengals remind AFC they are defending conference champs