The storyline for Sunday’s game in Cincinnati is the same – One team fighting to stay atop its division and another trying to stay out of the cellar. Only this year, the mantles are reversed.
This year it is the surprising Buffalo Bills who come into Paul Brown Stadium leading their division, and it is the Cincinnati Bengals who are trying to keep from seeing their season relegated to the “what could have been” files.
Buffalo is fresh off a 23-17 victory over the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, while Cincinnati is riding high after dismantling Cleveland, 31-7.
Sunday will mark the 31st meeting between the two teams, including a pair of playoff game victories by the Bengals. Buffalo leads the series 16-14, including a 16-12 victory at Paul Brown Stadium last year. Cincinnati had won the three previous meetings after dropping 10 straight games to the Bills.
There have been several memorable meetings between the teams, including the first Monday Night Football game ever played in the Queen City on November 17, 1975. That game featured outstanding performances by O.J. Simpson for the Bills and Cincinnati quarterback Kenny Anderson.
Simpson ran for 197 yards on only 17 carries for an average of 11.6 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns. But he was overshadowed by Anderson, who threw for 447 yards and two touchdowns in leading the Bengals to a 34-23 victory.
Just over seven years later, on January 3, 1982, the two teams staged a classic showdown in an AFC Divisional Playoff game in Cincinnati. Anderson hit rookie wide receiver Cris Collinsworth with a 16-yard scoring strike in the fifth minute of the fourth quarter to give the Bengals a 28-21 victory and a berth in the AFC Championship game the following week against the San Diego Chargers. But it was a victory that almost never happened.
Buffalo had an opportunity to tie the game when it drove to an apparent first down at the Cincinnati 16-yard line with just over three minutes remaining. But that play was negated by a delay of game penalty that had been whistled against the Bills when quarterback Joe Ferguson failed to notice the 30-second clock.
So, instead of 1st-and-10 from the Cincinnati 16-yard line, Buffalo faced a 4th-and-8. Ferguson’s pass in the end zone intended for Roland Hooks sailed high, and the Bengals’ were on their way to their first Super Bowl appearance.
Buffalo and Cincinnati would meet with even more at stake on January 8, 1989 in the AFC Championship game at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium.
The Bengals converted a Jim Kelly interception into an Ickey Woods one-yard touchdown run before a Kelly touchdown pass to Andre Reed knotted the score. Boomer Esiason answered with a 10-yard scoring strike to James Brooks and a 39-yard Scott Norwood narrowed the gap to 14-10 at the half.
Cincinnati’s defense took over from there and held Buffalo to only two first downs in the second half. The Bills failed to convert a single third down over the next 30 minutes, and the Bengals added another Woods touchdown run to push the final margin to 21-10. Cincinnati was on its way to its second Super Bowl appearance in seven years, but it set the stage for the Bills’ run of four straight Super Bowl losses.
That game would be the last time the Bills would lose to the Bengals until Cincinnati pulled out a 23-20 victory in Paul Brown Stadium on October 2, 2011.