Bengals extend winning streak to eight

A dominant defense versus Baltimore carries Cincy’s inconsistent offense to victory

By Pat Gainor, Staff Writer

In the regular season finale, the Cincinnati Bengals held off the dilapidated rival Baltimore Ravens 27-16 at Paycor, securing the third seed in the AFC ahead of this year’s playoffs.

Sunday’s win came at an emotional time for not just the league, but for the Bengals specifically. Last Monday night, Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest during the Bengals vs. Bills game and was quickly transferred to the University of Cincinnati hospital.

Following the NFL’s decision to declare the game a no-contest, Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL Player’s Association drafted plans for a potential neutral-site situation for the AFC Championship game should the Chiefs, Bills or Bengals meet each other there. However, this statement not only made Cincinnati’s possibility of claiming the #1 seed impossible, but it also would leave home field for their Wild Card playoff game to a coin toss should they have lost the game.

“There’s several instances this season when a club is fined or people in our building are fined and we’re being told, ‘Follow the rules. It’s black and white. It’s in the rulebook,’” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said following the approval of the neutral site plan. “So now when we point out the rules and you’re told, ‘We’re going to change that.’ I don’t want to hear about fair and equitable when that’s the case.”

The players showed disdain for the decision as well, and runningback Joe Mixon made it clear with a Chad Ochocinco-style celebration where he pulled a coin from his glove and flipped it following a touchdown; this came in the middle of a very strong first half containing just under 200 yards of offense and a defensive hold that scored on a fumble in the end zone to amass a 24-7 lead.

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After a difficult, emotional week waiting to hear about the health status of Bills safety Damar Hamlin, the Bengals performed well against AFC East rival Baltimore, ending the season winning eighth straight.

However, the offense went cold after halftime. Cincinnati only had two drives longer than 10 yards in the second half, and one of them was a turnover on downs. But, the defense held their own, with Bengals safety Jessie Bates ripping the ball out of Ravens wide receiver Sammy Watkins’ hands and Bengals safety Vonn Bell recovering to effectively seal the game.

After the game, Bates credited Hamlin’s progress in recovery as a source of energy for the game. 

“Any time you go through something like that as a team, I think it’s good that you talk about it as a team and go through it as brothers,” Bates said. “And I think we did a really good job of handling that.”

As of Monday, Hamlin is awake, fully conscious and in consistent communication with the Buffalo Bills as he remains at the University of Cincinnati Hospital. His toy drive, which had a GoFundMe goal of $2,500, has received more than 244,000 donations totaling $8.6 million.

“Putting love into the world comes back 3xs as much… thankful for everyone who has reached out and prayed,” Hamlin tweeted on Saturday. “This will make me stronger on the road to recovery, keep praying for me!”

With this win, Cincinnati officially wins the AFC North and secures home field advantage for their rematch with the Ravens on Sunday night in the Wild Card round. The Bengals appear as the favorite at first glance with Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s status unknown. 

Titans 16, Jaguars 20: After a 3-7 start looked to doom yet another season for Duval, Jacksonville got hot at the right time and met the collapsing Titans in their house for a matchup that would determine the AFC South champion. Though the Jags did not lead for most of the game, Titans quarterback Josh Dobbs fumbled after a hit by safety Rayshawn Jenkins and cornerback Josh Allen (not to be confused with Buffalo’s Josh Allen) returned it to the end zone, sending the Jaguars to the playoffs for the first time since the 2017-18 season.

Patriots 23, Bills 35: Call it scripted, call it divine intervention, but everyone who saw Nyheim Hines’ opening kickoff return touchdown, their first play since Damar Hamlin’s collapse, knew that this game was something truly special. Hines would do it again later in the game as well, helping propel the Bills to one of the most emotional wins in franchise history (and eliminate New England from playoff contention).

Lions 20, Packers 16: After Seattle defeated the Rams in overtime to eliminate them from playoff contention, Detroit could either take the Seahawks down with them or break the hearts of their hated rival. The Lions chose the latter, led by Jamaal Williams (or “1st Swagg Kazekage, leader of the hidden village of the Den”) tying and breaking Barry Sanders’ franchise record for most rushing touchdowns to knock Green Bay out of the playoffs.


#7 Seahawks (9-8) vs. #2 49ers (13-4) – 1/14/23, 4:30 ET

#5 Chargers (10-7) vs. #4 Jaguars (9-8) – 1/14/23, 8:15 ET

#7 Dolphins (9-8) vs. #2 Bills (13-3) – 1/15/23, 1:00 ET

#6 Giants (9-7-1) vs. #3 Vikings (13-4) – 1/15/23, 4:30 ET

#6 Ravens (10-7) vs. #3 Bengals (12-4) – 1/15/23, 8:15 ET

#5 Cowboys (12-5) vs. #4 Buccaneers (8-9) – 1/16/23, 8:00 ET