It happens when they change something.
Win the AFC North.
Win a home playoff game with a last-second defensive turnover.
Win on the road in the divisional round as underdogs.
Go to Kansas City to face the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game.
It’s funny how history repeats itself. I mean kids are walking around with permed mullets now. It’s nuts. I knew the Bengals could go back to the playoffs and I knew they could win again. What I didn’t know, is they’d absolutely dismantled the Bills like my kids can dismantle an expensive LEGO Millennium Falcon that took me hours to build.
But, that’s exactly what happened.
Here are a few things that went right in the Bengals’ win over the Bills on Sunday evening.
Pressure? What pressure?
The biggest narrative going into this weekend’s game was the health of the Bengals offensive line. With Jonah Williams, Alex Cappa and La’el Collins out, 60 percent of the team’s offensive line would be composed of backups, including (gasp) Jackson Carman, who got the start at left tackle.
Everybody who was anybody said Burrow wouldn’t have time to throw. Not only did he have time to throw, but the patchwork offensive line held up against the Bills pass rush better than the starting five have held up in some games this season, including Carman, who was the highest-graded pass-blocking lineman on the team on Sunday, per Pro Football Focus.
Not to say he should start should Williams be ready to go this weekend against the Chiefs, but throwing him back on the healthy scratch list is a thing of the past, I think.
What’s cooler than cool? Ice-cold!
Joe Burrow’s cool under pressure. Hell, Burrow’s just cool in general, and he showed it on Sunday. He sat in the pocket, moving when he needed to, and absolutely shredded the Bills defense. He spread the ball out to eight different receivers, completing 23 of his 36 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns.
He’s thrown for more yards, and he’s put up gaudier numbers, but he was almost perfect on Sunday. He didn’t force any throws. Any incomplete pass was almost thrown on purpose to make sure that only his receiver had a chance to catch it or the look he wanted wasn’t there so he threw it away. Stone-cold killer efficiency.
Run Through the Jungle
The Bengals run game has been inconsistent throughout the 2022 season, but Joe Mixon and the running game were menacing on Sunday. Mixon ran the ball 20 times for 105 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Samaje Perine added 33 yards on seven carries (4.7 ypc), as did Burrow with three six rushes for 31 yards.
Running the ball is so important to be successful this time of year. The Bills couldn’t do it because the Bengals defense wouldn’t allow them, and they got into an early hole that required them to give up the run and rely on the passing game. Being one-dimensional in the playoffs is a death sentence.
Cornering the market
Losing Chidobe Awuzie to a season-ending injury was a big deal when it happened, and it’s still a big deal. He’s the team’s top cornerback, and losing him thrust rookie Cam Taylor-Britt into a starting role opposite Eli Apple. Both Apple and, especially, CTB had great games on Sunday, though.
Apple knocked down a fourth-down pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter and CTB picked off his first pass as a pro to seal the Bills’ fate. Let’s not forget about slot corner Mike Hilton, who has been such a huge piece in the box as an extra run defender and pass rusher. He was in the backfield all day long.
As said earlier, the Bengals travel to Kansas City to face off against the Chiefs for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl on Sunday evening. Here are a couple of things they could see.
- Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ health is under question. He suffered a high ankle sprain in the Chiefs’ win over the Jaguars, and while he finished the game, it was clear he wasn’t himself. A huge part of Mahomes’ game is making plays off-script. His ability to slide in the pocket and throw a 200-yard pass on the run is almost superhuman, but if he can’t do that, he’ll be just a normal human.
- The Chiefs have struggled against the pass this season, but they have been solid at getting to the quarterback, racking up 55 sacks in 2022. The Bengals are going to need another solid performance from their offensive line, especially going up against All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones.
- Running back Isiah Pacheco has taken over the lead-back role for the Chiefs. He carried the ball 12 times for 95 yards against the Jaguars, including one carry for 39 yards. Pacheco isn’t a finesse runner. He’s a downhill punishing back and D.J. Reader and the rest of the Bengals front seven will need to get ready, especially if the Chiefs lean on the run game due to Mahomes’ health.
- Travis Kelce. What else do I need to say? He’s the best tight end in the NFL and is already a surefire first ballot hall of famer. The Bengals have been able to limit the damage he does in the past, and they’ll need to do it again. Tre Flowers was out on Sunday, and he’s typically been Lou Anarumo’s tight end guy. On Sunday, that task went to rookie Dax Hill. If it’s Hill again, he’ll face a tough test. Kelce shredded the Jaguars with 14 catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
Here are some other random thoughts on the Bengals’ big win in Buffalo on Sunday.
- When Burrow was hit low and sat on the ground for a minute, clearly in pain, my heart jumped out of my chest. Not like this..... not like this.
- That’s two Matrix quotes
- I initially thought Tee Higgins was getting booed when he caught passes, but now I know they were chanting “Teeeeee.” I love it.
- Anarumo is a genius and I cannot comprehend how we haven’t heard his name mentioned for head coaching vacancies. I mean, I’m happy about that, but put some respect on that man’s name (did I use that right?).
- The Bengals defense is able to get pressure on the quarterback while dropping everyone else into coverage. The defense is just getting better and better.
- Look at this block.
- Burrow went nine for nine in the first two touchdown drives, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
- The Bengals are much deeper than many, including myself, thought they would be. Apple and CTB have stepped up big in Awuzie’s absence. Dax Hill had a couple of nice plays while covering Dawson Knox. I thought the Bengals needed additional defensive linemen, but Joseph Ossai, Cam Sample and rookie Zach Carter have made big plays. This Bengals team is deep and very talented.
- I love this speech from offensive line coach Frank Pollack to his starting glass eaters on Sunday:
Silence the doubters. pic.twitter.com/wrDWZNROuc— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 23, 2023
- And this one of Pollack talking to Carman near the end of the game.
One of my favorite moments from last last night was Frank Pollack thanking two of his young OL @Jackthejiant and @c_volson for a valiant effort in the WIN pic.twitter.com/5B7wJ1wdLo— Mark Slaughter (@MarkVSlaughter) January 23, 2023
- The Bengals were obviously motivated by their underdog status despite winning nine straight games. They were further motivated by the NFL’s announcement that they were going to sell tickets to a Bills-Chiefs AFC Championship game at a neutral site before the Bengals and Bills ever played their game. Better send those refunds.
- I love watching games in the snow. I initially thought it would help the Bills, but that wasn’t the case.
- Obviously, you can hear the Bengals fans cheering, but listen to how quiet it got in the stadium when Hayden Hurst scored, bringing the score to 14-0 in the first quarter.
Hayden Hurst touchdown grab yesterday in Buffalo. #WhoDey @Bengals #RuleThePlayoffs @BengalsTalk @CincyJungle @BengalsBrews @RallyRoundNati @haydenrhurst pic.twitter.com/E2UWKRd6AB— Jason Dickess (@JasonD2k14) January 24, 2023
- Speaking of cheering, how awesome was it to hear “Who Dey” chanted through the TV? What an incredible fan base
- The Bengals just have one more game to get to their second consecutive Super Bowl. To get there they have to beat Mahomes and the Chiefs for the fourth consecutive time, and for the second time in Arrowhead Stadium. It’s not going to be easy, but if they pull it off, which team would you rather see them face; the Eagles or the 49ers?