Monday, September 26, 2022

From 0-2 to Super Bowl? Bengals, Titans look to join these teams that made the big game after rough starts

Joe Burrow and the rest of the defending AFC champions certainly expected better. Fresh off the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance in over 30 years, the Bengals‘ conference title defense is off to a tumultuous start. Cincinnati is 0-2 after dropping a pair of three-point games to Pittsburgh and Dallas. 

The Bengals’ offensive woes are perhaps more concerning than Cincinnati’s winless start. Burrow, sacked 70 times a year ago, has already been sacked 13 times this season despite the Bengals’ heavy investment in their offensive line during free agency. Despite the issues, Burrow and his teammates remain resolute in their resolve. 

“O-and-two is tough, but there is no panic,” Burrow said, via The Athletic. “There’s a lot of ball left to be played.”

“We are itching for a win right now,” running back Joe Mixon said. “No need to panic, but at the end of the day, we got to start going. We know what we got in our locker room. Our defense has been playing their ass off. We have to do whatever we can do on offense to counter what’s going on. It’s an unfortunate situation but we got to be the ones to dig ourselves out.”

The Titans, one of the teams the Bengals vanquished during last year’s playoff run, are also 0-2 after getting beaten soundly in Buffalo on Monday night. The Titans and Bengals are the most surprising of the five teams that are currently 0-2 entering the regular season’s third week. 

It’s not a well-traveled road, but teams that have started 0-2 have indeed reached the Super Bowl. Four teams have overcome 0-2 starts to reach the big game. Three of those teams left the Super Bowl hosting the Vince Lombardi Trophy, proving that it’s not always how you start, it’s how you finish that makes all the difference. 

Here’s a look at the four teams the Bengals and Titans will try to join in the history books when it’s all said and done. 

1993 Cowboys

  • Finished 12-4, 1st in NFC East
  • Defeated the Bills 30-13 in Super Bowl XXVIII

Main reason for slow start: Emmitt Smith, the league’s leading rusher during the previous season, missed the first two games over a contract dispute. Without Smith, the defending champion Cowboys were blown out by Washington in Week 1. A three-point loss in a Super Bowl rematch with Buffalo was enough to convince Jerry Jones to get Smith at the bargaining table and back on the field. 

Main reason for fast finish: With Smith back, the Cowboys won six straight games, with Smith rumbling for a career-high 237 yards against the Eagles. Smith closed out his MVP season with an all-time performance in the Cowboys’ regular-season finale against the Giants. Despite dealing with a separated shoulder, Smith ran for 168 yards and caught 10 passes for 61 yards and a score as Dallas won in overtime. 

In the playoffs, Smith tallied 418 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns. He won MVP honors after rushing for 132 yards and two touchdowns in the Cowboys’ second consecutive Super Bowl win over Buffalo. 

1996 Patriots 

  • Finished 11-5, 1st in AFC East 
  • Lost to the Packers 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI 

Main reason for slow start: Turnovers plagued the Patriots during their first two games. They coughed up the ball four times — with one leading to the game’s first touchdown — in a Week 1 loss to Miami. They took an early lead in Buffalo the following week before a special teams fumble set up the Bills’ go-ahead score. New England later tied the score before Jim Kelly threw the game-winning touchdown in the final minutes. 

Main reason for fast finish: They never completely solved their turnover issue, but for the most part the Patriots were able to overcome their miscues for the remainder of the season. New England’s defense, heavily influenced by assistant head coach Bill Belichick, forced a slew of turnovers that often made up for the offense’s miscues. The Patriots’ offense committed 21 turnovers during the season’s final 14 games. New England’s defense, led by Pro Bowler Willie McGinest, linebackers Chris Slade and Ted Johnson, and defensive backs Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and Willie Clay, forced 36 turnovers (including the postseason) after the 0-2 start. 

Along with the defense, the Patriots received big individual efforts by quarterback Drew Bledsoe, running back Curtis Martin and rookie receiver Terry Glenn. Each player was named to the Pro Bowl while leading an offense that finished second in the league in scoring. 

Turnovers, however, reared their ugly head in Super Bowl XXXI. The Patriots briefly led the favored Packers but were ultimately done in by four giveaways. In defeat, New England’s defense did not allow reigning league MVP Brett Favre and the Packers’ high-scoring offense to register a single point in the second half. 

2001 Patriots 

  • Finished 11-5, 1st in AFC East
  • Defeated the Rams 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI 

Main reason for slow start: New England’s offense scored just 20 points in its first two games. The Pats put just three points on the board against the Jets in Week 2 before Bledsoe was knocked out of bounds by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis late in the game. The injury was severe, as Bledsoe was hospitalized to treat a sheared blood vessel in his chest. 

Main reason for fast finish: With Bledsoe on the mend, Tom Brady entered the lineup for the Patriots’ third game of the year against Peyton Manning and the Colts. New England dominated the game in all three facets, and would run their record to 5-4 entering a Sunday night showdown with the Rams and their “Greatest Show on Turf” offense. The Patriots lost a tightly contested game, but it was enough for Belichick to declare Brady the starter for the rest of the season. 

The 2001 Patriots never lost again, winning their final six games of the regular season to clinch a playoff berth. They were the beneficiaries of the legendary “Tuck Rule” in the divisional round before upsetting the Steelers in the AFC title game. They raced out to a 17-3 lead against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI before winning the game on Adam Vinatieri’s last-second field goal. 

2007 Giants 

  • Finished 10-6, 2nd in NFC East
  • Defeated the Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII 

Main reason for slow start: The Giants defense allowed 80 points during the season’s first two games. Tony Romo torched New York for 345 yards and four scores in Week 1. Brett Favre threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns in Week 2, as the Giants’ season appeared to be over before Week 3.

Main reason for fast finish: Led by a defensive line that featured Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, the Giants defense played vastly better after its rocky start. The Giants allowed less than 20 points in five of their next six games to move to 6-2 at the midway point. 

At 10-5, the Giants had already clinched a playoff berth when the 15-0 Patriots came to town in Week 17. Despite having nothing to play for, the Giants played their starters and nearly ended the Patriots’ perfect season. They didn’t win that night, but five weeks later, on pro football’s biggest stage, the Giants defeated the Patriots in the second-largest upset in Super Bowl history. Eli Manning’s late-game heroics will continue to live on in Super Bowl lore. 

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