After years of ineptitude, 2021 was tabbed as a breakout season for a long-suffering NFL team from Ohio.
It just so happens that team is the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals entered Sunday's NFL slate with questions over their 4-2 start, since it lacked a marquee victory and featured two wins against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions. They leave with a dominant win over the AFC-favorite Baltimore Ravens and new-found status as a contender in the AFC North.
Sparked by a huge day from standout rookie Ja'Marr Chase and second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, the Bengals rolled to a 41-17 win that saw the Ravens wave the white flag and bench Lamar Jackson halfway through the fourth quarter. Cincinnati opened up a game that Baltimore led 17-13 with 28 unanswered points in the second half to improve to 5-2 and take over first place in one of the NFL's toughest divisions.
Tight end C.J. Uzomah got the second-half surge rolling with a 32-yard catch-and-run from Burrow as he was barely touched on his way to the end zone.
The score was his second of the day after 55-yard bomb from Burrow in the second quarter counted for Cincinnati's first touchdown.
Then Chase happened. On Cincinnati's next possession, the standout rookie caught a short pass over the middle for what looked like a simple third-and-2 conversion deep in Bengals territory. Instead, he escaped three would-be Ravens tacklers and sprinted 82 yards to extend Cincinnati's lead to 27-17.
Meanwhile, Bengals defenders gave Jackson's offense fits. As the Bengals reeled off four touchdowns in five possessions, the Ravens tallied 81 yards on 24 plays. Four possessions ended with two punts and two turnovers on downs. A failed fourth-and-15 conversion with 8:03 remaining spelled the end of Jackson's day as backup quarterback Tyler Huntley mercifully took over.
Jackson's final tally of 257 passing yards, 88 rushing yards and a touchdown through the air didn't tell the story. Instead, it was the five sacks he suffered at the hands of Bengals defenders.
Meanwhile Burrow finished with a career-high 416 passing yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Chase added more punctuation to his ascent as the NFL's next great receiver with eight catches for 201 yards and his highlight-reel touchdown.
As Cincinnati's offense exploded, its defense was more than capable against a Ravens team that had clearly separated itself from the AFC pack — until Sunday, at least. Now both teams stand at 5-2 with Cincinnati holding an emphatic tiebreaker for he division lead.