Maybe the impossible is not so impossible after all.
After the Cincinnati Bengals opened the 2022 season with two straight losses, the odds of them returning to the Super Bowl could be summed up in one word: Impossible.
And when the Bengals traveled to snowy Buffalo to take on the NFL-darling Bills as 5 1/2 point underdogs Sunday, that same word pretty much summed up their chances: Impossible.
But, as Walt Disney once said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”
“It was a blast,” said new Bengals left tackle Jackson Carman, who was making his first start of the season filling in for the injured Jonah Williams. “It was fun.”
It was fun in no small measure thanks to the incredible work of an offensive line that had lost one starter in each of the three previous games. Right tackle La’el Collins went down with a torn ACL against the Patriots, right guard Alex Cappa hurt his ankle in the season finale against the Ravens and Williams suffered a dislocated knee cap in the wild-card round.
Fun was probably not the word that came to most people’s minds when they thought of Cincinnati’s chances against a Bills defense that ranked in the top five in most categories coming in - especially not in a driving snowstorm.
But the weather didn’t bother the Bengals’ big men up front. In fact, it brought out the best in them.
“You just got to channel your inner Shaun White,” Carman said. “It’s a snowboard on that ice.
“We’re from Cincinnati. When it gets cold, it’s cold. When it gets hot, it’s hot. We always tell ourselves we play best in the most extreme conditions. We just went out there and did what we do every day in practice.”
What they did was total domination for a front five that was together in a game for the first time. The Bengals rushed for over 150 yards as a team, and Joe Mixon finished with 20 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown.
“When Joe’s having a great day, we’re having a great day,” Carman said. “Joe’s been playing at the highest level since he started playing football. I don’t expect anything different from Joe. That’s who he is, and he showed it.”
Not only did the line dominate, but they played nearly perfect football. Cincinnati got flagged for just two penalties up front the entire day, and quarterback Joe Burrow was sacked just once, for a loss of two yards. The Bengals converted on 6 of 10 third-down plays, and there were only two plays out of 69 that went for negative yards. There were also 16 plays of 10 yards or more.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” said Bengals’ center Ted Karras, who gritted through a knee injury of his own that he suffered in the second quarter. “We got three guys coming in with the biggest game of our lives, performing well with a dominating victory.”
The results may have seemed impossible to the rest of the NFL, but for these guys, it was just another day at the office.
“We just trusted in our work,” said Hakeem Adeniji, who was making his third straight start at right tackle. “We’ve been working for this since we came in. We know our goals. We got great guys. We’re deep. We trust each other. We went out there and we did what we had to do.”
The impossible is down to two now. Cincinnati travels to Kansas City for its second straight AFC Championship Game on Sunday evening, with a berth in Super Bowl LVII on the line.
“We’re just getting started, though,” said rookie right guard Cordell Volson, who won the job in training camp and refused to let go. “We’ve got two more games ahead of us and we’re just gonna keep getting better.”