Bengals, back in AFC title game, keep ‘proving people wrong’


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Anyone who had tickets for an AFC Championship Game in Atlanta might want to get their money back.

As the Cincinnati Bengals walked back up the tunnel in Highmark Stadium following Sunday’s 27-10 win over the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round of the playoffs, several players stressed that any of the 50,000 people who snagged presale tickets for a potential game between the Bills and Kansas City Chiefs should seek a refund.

“There was not no stress about that at all, man,” Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase said. “Just proving people wrong, the NFL doing stuff like that for the Bills to go to the Super Bowl. They trying to make it seem like we’re not ready. So we just came in here and proved it. That’s all.”

Cincinnati, the defending AFC champion, is headed on the road to face the Chiefs in the conference championship game for the second straight year. The Bengals secured their spot as one of the last four teams left in the playoffs with their most convincing postseason win in recent years.

Cincinnati led 14-0 early and maintained control throughout. The start was similar to the Week 17 game between the two teams, when the Bengals took a 7-3 lead in the first quarter and were driving down the field before Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest. The game was eventually canceled, which led to the NFL creating a potential neutral-site game with Kansas City and Buffalo if both teams advanced to the AFC Championship Game.

But that first meeting gave Cincinnati confidence that it could thwart the league’s contingency plans.

“We knew what we were capable of,” Chase said. “I mean, look at the first game. We knew what we were capable of from the jump. We were just excited to play those guys.”

The Bengals held the Bills to a season-low 10 points. That was Cincinnati’s second-fewest points allowed in postseason franchise history.

Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen, who was briefly subbed out of a drive after a hit but did not leave the game, was 25-of-42 passing for 265 yards, no touchdowns and an interception on the Bills’ final drive of the game.

“I don’t think you ever look at the scoreboard and see the Bills having 10 points, even in the first half,” Bengals safety Jessie Bates III said. “This is what we do.”

Cincinnati was also bolstered by another strong offensive start. Dating to Week 16 of the regular season, the Bengals have outscored opponents by a combined total of 39-0 in the first quarter.

Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow played a major role in that. He completed his first nine passes and finished the day by going 23-of-36 passing for 242 yards and two touchdowns. He also broke Ken Anderson’s franchise record for most career postseason passing yards (1,321).

Bengals running back Joe Mixon tallied 20 carries for 105 yards, marking his highest yardage total in any of the team’s six postseason games over the past two seasons.

Burrow’s and Mixon’s numbers were indicative of how well the Bengals thought they played Sunday despite Cincinnati having three reserves starting on its offensive line.

“It was just one of their best games of the year, rushing [and] pass blocking,” Burrow said of the unit’s performance. “It might be our most complete game of the season as a team.”

The Bengals quarterback said the team didn’t use the presale tickets for the potential Kansas City-Buffalo game as motivation. But Burrow referenced in it his postgame TV interview, telling CBS that the league “better send those refunds.”

The Bengals’ 17-point win exceeded Cincinnati’s combined margin of victory — 13 — in three postseason wins in 2021.

Last season, the Bengals went on the road in the divisional round and knocked off the top-seeded Tennessee Titans. Bates, who said Sunday’s win was the biggest win over the past couple of seasons because it was the most recent one, pointed out the parallels between then and now.

“We go into Tennessee and we whooped their ass,” Bates told ESPN. “And we come here [to Buffalo] and we whooped their ass here.”

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