The storyline of the Rams and Bengals meeting for the first time since Super Bowl LVI was rarely brought up. These are vastly different teams, with the Bengals entering Monday night with a broken offense and the pesky Rams playing with a nothing-to-lose attitude.

Before the Rams swiped the Super Bowl from the Bengals, they had plenty to lose as the aggressive franchise that frequently traded first-round picks for proven talent and better odds for capturing a championship. This year’s Rams weren’t given a shot to even sniff the postseason by most football pundits. But they recorded a surprising Week 1 victory against the Seahawks, allowing them to play freely against a desperate Bengals squad that was staring at a potential 0–3 record.

Los Angeles used that to its advantage, baiting the hobbled Joe Burrow to make mistakes downfield against its secondary that was content with allowing short completion to Bengals wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. It tested Burrow’s patience, something he hasn’t had for the calf injury that has given him issues since the summer.

Ironically, it was Matthew Stafford who made the mistakes that allowed the rusty Bengals to hang around before breaking through the wall the Rams built with their defensive backs downfield. The Bengals are no longer desperate after defeating the Rams, 19-16, to give them their first win of the season.

Burrow did just enough for the Bengals to beat the Rams on Monday night and avoid an 0-3 start.

Michael Conroy/AP

So, after a stressful week of not knowing whether Burrow would play, and nearly three sluggish quarters Monday night, the Bengals are back where they were a year ago. Cincinnati overcame an 0-2 start last year, winning 12 of its final 14 regular-season games and advancing to the AFC title game for the second consecutive season. The Bengals can now sit at the AFC contenders’ table next to the Chiefs, Dolphins, Bills and Ravens.

The Rams, too, might have felt as if they were back in 2022 with the constant pressure Stafford faced against the Bengals’ defense, which got worse after left tackle Alaric Jackson and right guard Joe Noteboom left with injuries. Stafford was sacked six times and threw two interceptions.

On the night, Stafford connected on 18 of his 33 pass attempts for 269 yards and one touchdown. Burrow went 26-for-49 with 259 yards and an interception.

Burrow leaned on his dynamic receiving duo of Chase and Higgins to move upfield midway through the third quarter before running back Joe Mixon scored the first touchdown of the night, a 14-yard run to give the Bengals a 13–9 advantage.

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Credit to Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris for tempting Burrow into short passes knowing that his injured calf would prevent him from taking deep shots that take longer to develop. What made the Bengals one of the best offenses of the past two seasons was their knack for consistently generating downfield plays with Chase and Higgins.

There was nothing explosive about the Bengals’ offense in the first half—they averaged 3.8 yards per gain and stalled multiple drives with false starts on third down. Burrow occasionally took his chances downfield, but he missed a handful of throws that were uncharacteristic for his lofty standards. Burrow completed 54.8% of his passes in the opening half. (He completed 68.3% of his passes in 2022 and a league-high 70.4% in ’21.)

Burrow went away from the quick game on the final drive of the first half and generated a few lengthy plays, but he got greedy, as the Rams perfectly timed an obvious dropback, sacking the signal-caller for a loss of nine yards. The Bengals still added a field goal to go into halftime tied 6–6, but no one wanted to see the hobbled Burrow take multiple hits on the sack.

It was somewhat of a surprise that Burrow wasn’t made inactive Monday night after he aggravated his calf injury during the loss to the Ravens last week, the same injury that forced Burrow to miss training camp, which might explain why Cincincatti has been off its game this season. Burrow obviously wanted to be on the field for his teammates, and he might have rushed back because of the Bengals’ winless start.

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The Rams didn’t have trouble creating explosive plays in the first half, with rookie sensation Puka Nacua breaking free with his smooth route running and Tutu Atwell stretching the field vertically and horizontally with his blazing speed. But the Rams failed to create separation in the first half because of miscues in the red zone, including Stafford missing multiple swing throws to running back Kyren Williams. Stafford had two costly interceptions to allow the Bengals to build a lead in the second half.

The Rams no longer have the wiggle room they gave themselves with the victory in Seattle. Moral victories, which they had in Week 2 vs. the 49ers, don’t count in the standings. The Rams need wins in upcoming games against the Colts, Eagles and Cardinals to be more than just pesky competitors.

Sometimes it’s comical how much one game can change the outlook for NFL teams. The Bengals are Super Bowl contenders again, like many expected them to be before the 0–2 start.