Bengals Are Looking for Excuses--From Bills
As they prepare for their first AFC Championship game in seven years, the Cincinnati Bengals are making some excuses.
Not for themselves. For the Buffalo Bills, their championship game opponent.
The Bengals beat the Bills 35-21 in their meeting during the regular season, and are trying to keep themselves from getting too comfortable for the rematch today at Riverfront Stadium -- the site of their convincing victory in the 13th week of the regular season.
“We haven’t experienced a convincing win around here yet,” Coach Sam Wyche suggested Tuesday. “We usually try to keep them in the stands as long as we can.
“We have very rarely walked away saying, ‘Convincing win,’ because the teams are too good. Nobody’s going to dominate anybody in this league very often for four quarters. It happens, but it’s rare. And it won’t happen this Sunday.”
It happened for most of their earlier game. Cincinnati ran off to a 21-0 first-half lead before the Bills fought to within a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Rob Riddick’s fumble scuttled a potential tying drive, and the Bengals grounded out the clinching touchdown for the final margin.
Cincinnati’s offense, ranked No. 1 in the NFL, got the best of the AFC’s top-ranked defense in the earlier game, rushing for 232 yards and passing for another 223. The 455 yards of offense were the Bengals’ second-highest total of the season.
“They killed us,” Buffalo nose tackle Fred Smerlas said. “It was like playing under Niagara Falls; everything kept leaking through us.”
As the Bengals are quick to point out this week, the Bills had several factors against them in that game. They’d just clinched the AFC East title with an emotional win, and were without starting cornerback Derrick Burroughs and linebacker Shane Conlan. Linebacker Darryl Talley also got hurt early in the game.
By comparison, the Bengals were generally healthy, had an excited home crowd behind them, and prepared for the game as a chance to prove themselves one of the best teams in the conference. Both teams have 13-4 overall records going into the title game.
One of the Bengals’ first jobs this week was to forget about how easily they moved the ball in the earlier victory, surprising even themselves.
“I think we were a little bit surprised,” quarterback Boomer Esiason said. “But I can tell you this, we don’t expect that at all this time around. There are no excuses now, there are no reasons for being down. I’m sure both teams will be very high emotionally.
“I’m sure what this game is going to come down to, like most games, is who makes the crucial turnover, the crucial mistake. That’s something we’ve avoided all year long, and hopefully they’ll turn the ball over.”
The Bills are healthier this time around, which should make the Bengals’ job tougher.
“We feel that Darryl Talley is probably one of the best outside linebackers in the league at stopping the run, and one of the fortunate things for us (in the first game) was that he got hurt,” Esiason said. “We kind of found a little soft spot. It’s not going to be that way this week.”
There’s one other job for the Bengals this week -- ignore the praise coming from Buffalo and observers who rate them solid favorites to go to the Super Bowl.
“I don’t know if even if we would have had everybody (healthy) we could have stopped them,” Smerlas said. “They were on. They were running right, left, up the middle. They were passing. They were doing everything they wanted to do against our defense, which we weren’t accustomed to.”