Joe Burrow and the Bengals overcome the elements to reach AFC title game again
Joe Burrow threw two touchdown passes, Cincinnati’s defense swarmed Josh Allen on a snow-slicked field and the Bengals advanced to their second straight AFC championship game with a 27-10 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Damar Hamlin’s inspirational presence while watching the game from an end-zone suite was not enough to spark the Bills in a rematch of a regular-season game that was canceled on Jan. 2 when the Bills safety went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated on the field in Cincinnati.
Instead, it was “Joe Cool” showing poise while playing in a persistent snowfall.
Burrow completed his first nine passes for 105 yards in leading Cincinnati to a 14-0 lead after its first two possessions. Ja’Marr Chase opened the scoring with a 28-yard touchdown catch 3:20 into the game, followed by Burrow’s 15-yard touchdown throw to Hayden Hurst eight minutes later. Joe Mixon scored on a one-yard run, and Evan McPherson made field goals from 20 and 28 yards in a game the Bengals never trailed.
Damar Hamlin is in attendance for the Buffalo Bills’ AFC divisional-round playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Cincinnati advanced to consecutive AFC championship games for the first time in franchise history, and will again travel to play Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bengals beat the Chiefs 27-24 to advance to last year’s Super Bowl, which they lost to the Rams at SoFi Stadium.
“It’s going to be a fun one,” said Burrow, who went 23 of 36 for 242 yards. “Two of the top guys in the league, two of the top teams in the league, great defenses, great overall teams, great coaches.”
Cincinnati has won the last three meetings against Kansas City, including a 27-24 victory last month. The Chiefs are making their fifth straight appearance in the AFC championship game following a 27-20 win over Jacksonville on Saturday.
The Bills’ playoff run ended in the divisional round for a second straight season, including a 42-36 overtime loss to Kansas City last year.
Had Buffalo defeated Cincinnati, the AFC championship would have been held at Atlanta next weekend because the Bills (13-3) finished the season half a game behind the Chiefs (14-3) after their game against Cincinnati was canceled.
“Better send those refunds,” Burrow said, referring to Bills and Chiefs fans.
The Bengals mixed in their running attack to keep the Bills off balance in a first half in which Cincinnati outgained Buffalo in total yards by a margin of 274-135, and 412-325 overall. Mixon’s 105 yards rushing alone were one short of how many the Bengals combined for in their last two games, both against Baltimore.
“Domination from start to finish,” Burrow added. “That’s what we expected. Job’s not finished.”
The Bengals held one of the NFL’s top offenses to a season-low 10 points. And the unit got a chance to celebrate by making snow angels in the end zone after Cam Taylor-Britt intercepted Allen’s attempt at the goal line to essentially end the game with 62 seconds left.
Allen finished 25 of 42 for 265 yards.
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“They came out, they played hard,“ Allen said. “We just didn’t have it today.”
It was a dud of an outing for a Bills team that opened the season with Super Bowl aspirations, and eventually ran out of emotional and physical gas. Aside from the stunning sight of Hamlin’s collapse, the Bills had their schedule twice disrupted by severe winter storms.
Injuries also played an issue. The Bills’ pass rush, missing Von Miller since he sustained a season-ending knee injury in November, generated very little pressure against a Bengals offensive line missing three starters due to injuries.
“We were expecting their best punch and they came out and punched us,” Allen said.
Hamlin was whisked into the stadium in a security vehicle, and led directly into the Bills’ locker room about an hour before kickoff. He was later joined by his mother, Nina, and younger brother, Damir. He watched the game from a suite in one end zone and was pictured on the videoboard at the two-minute warning in the first half, with Cincinnati facing second and goal at Buffalo’s five.
Hamlin raised his arms in his suite to a roar of cheers, before making a heart sign with his hands. The Bills’ defense limited the Bengals to a field goal, and trailed 17-7 at the half.
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