Cincy poised for Super Bowl appearance

Against the odds, Burrow leads Bengals to victory in Buffalo and to the AFC Championship

By Pat Gainor, Staff Writer

With the odds stacked against them, the Cincinnati Bengals steamrolled the Buffalo Bills 27-10 in a snowy game at Orchard Park to advance to their second straight AFC Championship Game.

This game was one of the most anticipated games of the week, as both teams were set for a rematch of their Week 17 matchup that was canceled after Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field. With eyes on the Bills hoping to make a Super Bowl run in Damar Hamlin’s name, the odds were certainly stacked against the Bengals ahead of the game.

But Cincinnati would make a statement early on both sides of the ball. In the first quarter, the Bengals stormed down the field on their first two drives to build a 14-0 lead, and the defense held the Bills to just eight yards of total offense in the first quarter. Burrow had one of the best starts to a game in his career, completing all of his first 9 pass attempts for 105 yards and two touchdowns to Ja’Marr Chase and Hayden Hurst.

“The bigger the moment gets, the calmer he gets,” Cincinnati Head Coach Zac Taylor regarding Burrow’s performance said. “Our guys believe. They walk on the field ready to attack.”

Buffalo’s offense gained a pulse in the second quarter as they put together a 7-minute, 75-yard touchdown drive to cut the lead to seven. But another solid drive led by Joe Mixon helped the Bengals respond with a field goal to head into halftime with a 17-7 lead.

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The Bengals were not positioned to beat the Buffalo Bills due to location, seed ranking and being down three offensive lineman. Although the Bills were favored by eight points, the team was victorious.

In the second half, Cincinnati’s defense would take center stage. As Buffalo drove down the field looking to get back into the game, Cincinnati made a goal-line stand to hold the Bills to a field goal – the last time they would score in the game. A Joe Mixon touchdown and another Evan McPherson field goal would build an insurmountable lead, and the defense would shut down Buffalo’s offense for good to secure a ticket to the AFC Championship Game.

“It was a complete game from everybody,” Burrow said after the game. “Offense, defense, special teams from start to finish. That’s what we expected. The job’s not finished. We’ve got another big one next week on the road. I’m excited for it.”

Burrow went 23/36 for 242 yards and two touchdowns, with a passer rating of 101.9. He has now thrown for over 200 yards in all six of his playoff starts. Mixon had an excellent day, rushing for 105 of the team’s 172 total rushing yards. Despite Buffalo having some of the best defensive linemen in the league and Cincinnati’s offensive line working through injuries, Burrow was sacked only once for two yards on a scramble.

For many fans, this win felt like retribution against a league that was rooting against them. Last week, the league announced that a Bills-Chiefs AFC Championship game would take place at a neutral site, Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and reports showed that around 50,000 tickets had been sold days before the Bengals and Bills played. Many players, notably Mixon, said they felt “disrespected” as this news came just a couple weeks after the NFL announced that their wild card game would be decided by a coin-flip if the Ravens won in Week 18.

When asked about how he felt about the neutral-site game situation after the win, Joe Cool had a simple response: “Better send those refunds.”

The Bengals are set to rematch the Chiefs from last year’s AFC Championship Game on Sunday and return to the Super Bowl to face either the Niners or Eagles a week later.

Final NFL Recap of the Year

Jaguars 20, Chiefs 27: What was thought to be an easy win for Kansas City almost turned into a season-killing disaster. In the second quarter, Patrick Mahomes suffered a high-ankle sprain that knocked him out of the first half, and the Jags looked to have a chance to make a stunning upset. However, Mahomes would return to the game to keep the Chiefs afloat, and two costly turnovers by Jacksonville would send Kansas City to their fifth straight AFC Championship Game, which Mahomes will likely play in.

Giants 7, Eagles 38: Any worries about the Eagles coming out shaky from  the bye week after nearly losing the 1-seed against the Giants’ backups in Week 18 were swiftly put to rest. Philadelphia put on an offensive clinic against New York, rushing for 268 yards – their second most of the season – en route to an absolute rout. The Eagles look to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2018 as they host the Niners this Sunday.

Cowboys 12, 49ers 19: How bout them Cowboys? After a dominant win against Brady and the Bucs, Dallas’ aspirations of their first NFC Championship Game in 30 years were stifled by yet another showing of San Francisco’s defensive dominance. Despite a rather sluggish showing from Brock Purdy and the offense, the defense picked off quarterback Dak Prescott twice, held their offense to 12 points, and shut down one of the worst final plays I have ever seen. Seriously. Look it up. It involves running back Ezekiel Elliot lining up at center, nine receivers lined up at wideout and the play falling apart on an overthrown ball thanks to a two man rush. It is peak comedy.