For a second straight year, the Bengals and Chiefs will play for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The Bengals, in pursuit of a second consecutive Super Bowl berth, punched their ticket to Kansas City next Sunday after posting a 27-10 victory over the Bills in the AFC divisional round.
Facing the Bills, a hostile crowd and constant snowfall, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was unflappable. He threw two touchdowns in the first half as the Bengals took a 17-7 halftime lead. Burrow had plenty of help from Joe Mixon, whose 1-yard touchdown stretched Cincinnati’s lead to 24-10 heading into the fourth quarter.
Cincinnati’s defense contributed to the win by dominating Buffalo’s offense for large stretches of the game. The Bengals flustered Josh Allen for most of the game while limiting Stefon Diggs to just 35 yards on four catches. Fittingly, Cincinnati iced the win when rookie defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt picked off Allen deep in Bengals territory with one minute left.
Here’s a closer look at transpired in Buffalo.
Why the Bengals won
Cincinnati had the superior quarterback on this day in Burrow, who improved his playoff record to 5-1 and 3-0 and the road. Throughout the game, Burrow showcased his peerless accuracy and often overlooked mobility to make plays for the Bengals’ offense.
As he often does, Burrow spread the wealth, completing passes to eight teammates. His top target, Ja’Marr Chase, led the way with five catches for 61 yards that included his 28-yard touchdown catch that opened the scoring. Tight end Hayden Hurst also came up big with five grabs that included his 15-yard touchdown catch that stretched Cincinnati’s lead to 14-0.
The Bengals’ passing game was complemented by Cincinnati’s rushing attack. Led by Mixon’s 105 yards, Cincinnati rumbled for 172 yards on 34 carries. A big reason for Mixon’s success was the play of the Bengals’ rebuilt offense line that included 2021 second-round pick Jackson Carman, who on Sunday made his first career start at left tackle as they dealt with several injuries.
As they have throughout the Bengals’ 10-game winning streak, Cincinnati’s defense played an integral role in Sunday’s win. Cincinnati took away Buffalo’s running game while limiting Diggs’ impact in the passing game. The Bengals minimized the Bills’ big plays while applying consistent pressure on Allen.
Why the Bills lost
Buffalo, who lost a home playoff game for only the second time since the 1970 merger, failed to play complementary football. Cincinnati’s two early touchdowns, for example, were sandwiched between a Buffalo three-and-out when the Bills’ defense would have benefitted by having more time off the field.
The Bills’ offense again came up short late in the first half after the defense forced the Bengals to settle for a touchdown after reaching the red zone. Buffalo’s lack of a physical running game, especially given the wintery conditions, was exposed on Sunday.
The offense let them down, but the Bills’ defense isn’t without fault. The Bills’ defense, after all, allowed Burrow to complete each of his first nine attempts as Cincinnati took a big lead early. They were pushed around by a Bengals’ offensive line that played without three starters.
Cincinnati’s hot start had somewhat started to cool off late in the first half after Chase’s touchdown was overturned. Buffalo didn’t necessarily take advantage of overturn, but they did put a dent into the Bengals’ lead after kicking a field goal to start the second half, which cut their deficit to 17-10.
The Bengals wouldn’t allow Buffalo to get closer, as Burrow led a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Mixon’s short touchdown run. The drive’s big play was Burrow’s 13-yard completion to Hurst on third-and-10 on Buffalo’s 40-yard-line.
Play of the game
It’s nothing pretty, but Mixon’s short touchdown run late in the third quarter embodied what type of game it was for both teams. The Bengals ran at will against Buffalo, while the Bills were unable to come up with a splash play on either side of the ball.
“You better send those refunds.” — Burrow to CBS Sports on the 50,000-plus tickets Bills and Chiefs fans bought in the event the two teams faced in Atlanta in the AFC title game.
Cincinnati will look to become the fifth team this century to play in consecutive Super Bowls. To do that, they’ll have to defeat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium for a second straight year. The Bengals have had the upper hand in their matchups with Kansas City, as Cincinnati has won three straight games in the matchup that includes the Bengals’ Week 13 win at home.
Once again, Buffalo will begin their offseason several weeks earlier than it had hoped. Receiver, a power running back, pass rusher (they will be getting Von Miller back) and secondary are among the areas the Bills will likely look to strengthen during the offseason.