CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals are well aware of the chatter following their best season in three decades — that their Super Bowl run was a fluke.
As the Bengals started voluntary offseason workouts on Monday, cornerback Mike Hilton said the team is looking to prove to skeptics that the defending AFC champions are legitimate contenders. Hilton says he has a hunch why people believe the Bengals are a one-hit wonder.
“Because it’s the Bengals — point-blank, period,” Hilton said. “When you think of the Bengals, you’re like, ‘Oh, the Bengals,’ you know? But now, with this group of guys that we have and the coaches that we have, we’re really turning this organization around. And we’re just trying to get the respect we deserve.”
Before last season, the Bengals hadn’t made the postseason since 2015, won a playoff game since January 1991 and hadn’t played in the Super Bowl since 1989. After being the worst team in the NFL in 2019, Cincinnati extinguished all those droughts.
The Bengals won the AFC North and then toppled Kansas City, the reigning AFC champions, to win the Lamar Hunt Trophy.
When asked if the chatter about the fluky run created some anger or put the proverbial chip on the shoulder, Hilton said, “Absolutely, because people still didn’t believe it throughout the whole playoff run. They were saying we were lucky and this and that.”
In the first team meeting of the offseason, Bengals coach Zac Taylor told the team that all of their goals are still achievable despite the 23-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI. The Bengals bolstered what was one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines by signing three free agents to be starters.
Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons said the message was well-received by the team, which is aware that reaching the Super Bowl last season doesn’t include guarantees of returning there.
“We played in the Super Bowl last year, but the roster’s completely different,” Simmons said. “But [Taylor] is right. Everything is still right out in front of us, same way it was a year ago.”
To Hilton’s point, the oddsmakers believe the Bengals are far from favorites to play for another championship. According to Caesar’s Sportsbooks, the Bengals have the 11th-best odds of winning the Super Bowl and the Cleveland Browns have the best odds of winning the AFC North.
Despite the odds and skepticism, Hilton said the team is confident and made offseason acquisitions to improve the chances of repeating as AFC champions and proving that 2021 was no fluke.
“When people call it a fluke, we just smile and take it on,” Hilton said. “We’re ready to go out there and prove it again.”