The Bengals fell short of a Super Bowl title in Los Angeles on Sunday, but the 2021 season still marked a major step forward for the franchise.
Five straight losing seasons and six wins over the last two years were the backdrop for their run to an AFC title, so winning the AFC North and knocking off the Raiders, Titans, and Chiefs in the playoffs marked a massive change in fortunes in Cincinnati. After the 23-20 loss to the Rams, Bengals safety Jessie Bates said that he believes it can be a lasting one.
“This group is a special group,” Bates said. “We know it. It’s tough that every year there’s a new team. This group was special but next year it’s going to look different but our standard is our standard is our standard. I think we set a standard here in Cincinnati. It’s going to continue for a long time and even the guys that aren’t going to be here, that’s a standard that they can take to another team, go be a dad, whatever it is in life. That standard that we built this year was something special like I said.”
Bates isn’t the only Bengals player who feels that the future remains bright, although a look at history shows that return trips to the Super Bowl are far from guaranteed in the NFL. Holding onto core pieces from this year’s team will help any bids for success in 2022 and beyond, which should make retaining Bates a priority in the coming weeks.
Bates is set for unrestricted free agency after a standout season on the back end of the defense. Re-signing or tagging him will be a big piece of the effort to ensure the standard remains the standard for the AFC champs.